Jeff Ballard's first start in more than two months is the first step in Orioles manager Frank Robinson's motivational crash course for the final week of the season.
When Ballard (2-10, 4.99) faces the Yankees tonight (7:30, HTS), he will be the first of three starters getting a final chance to salvage something from the 1990 season. Bob Milacki (4-8, 4.70) and a yet to be determined candidate will get opportunities over the weekend.
Especially in the cases of Ballard and Milacki, the club's biggest winners a year ago, the juggling act is more one of reassurance than it is necessity. Robinson will hold Jose Mesa back two days to pitch against Toronto Monday, allowing the Orioles to use their three most effective starters against the division leaders.
The Orioles would like to pass Cleveland for at least a fourth-place finish, but that is not Robinson's only concern. By giving Ballard and Milacki a chance to start he is sending a message that both figure as candidates for next year's starting rotation.
Ballard won more games (18) than any lefthander in the American League last year, but lost nine of his 10 decisions as a starter this year -- exactly the opposite of 1989. He hasn't started a game since July 16, when he left with a 5-2 lead against Texas, but was not the pitcher of record.
Milacki's situation isn't as severe as Ballard's, but he has made only three relief appearances since July 30, when he went on the disabled list for more than a month.
In the season finale against the Yankees, Ballard will face lefthander Chuck Cary (5-11, 4.40). The Orioles then move on to Cleveland to close out their road schedule with four games against the Indians.