NEW YORK -- Ron Kittle, the Orioles' invisible man, said yesterday he plans to discuss his future with general manager Roland Hemond before the end of the season. Slowly but surely, his puzzling situation is coming to a head.
Kittle, 32, did not start for the 10th straight game last night as the Orioles lost to New York, 4-2. Manager Frank Robinson said Kittle suffered a recurrence of his groin injury in his last start at Toronto Sept. 15, but Kittle refused to acknowledge that was the case.
"I ain't got no comment on that," he said.
Kittle is not currently receiving treatment for an injury, one Oriole said, and the apparent dispute over his physical condition reflects the rift that has developed between Robinson and him since his arrival from the Chicago White Sox in the July 30 trade for Phil Bradley.
The question now is whether the Orioles will pick up the option year of his contract, valued at $550,000 before incentives. Kittle has started only 14 of 53 games since joining the club, but Hemond -- his former GM in Chicago -- remains one of his biggest supporters.
"He's a hitter with power," Hemond said last night. "It's unfortunate he's had that pulled groin right from the beginning. He's been ailing most of the time he's been with us."
But Kittle, a first baseman and designated hitter, appears so disgusted with his lack of playing time that he might ask the Orioles to decline his option year so that he could pursue free agency.
"I don't see anything here for me right now," he said. "I told Roland I'd like to sit down and talk to him. He ain't going to sway me . . . I don't know. I'm not going to burn any bridges. Roland knows I'm honest and truthful. I'm going to tell it as I see it.
"I'm not saying I don't see myself here," Kittle said. "I just don't know what the picture is."
Kittle led the White Sox with 16 home runs and averaged 28.5 from 1983 to '86. But he has batted only .164 with two homers and three RBIs in 61 at-bats since joining the Orioles. He was sidelined by the groin injury when the club was still in the race. Since then Robinson has chosen to play younger players.
Robinson said the Orioles will evaluate all of their players Tuesday at a high-level meeting that will be attended by Hemond, the coaching staff, club president Larry Lucchino, farm director Doug Melvin and possibly scouting director John Barr.
The decision on Kittle will be one of the first the Orioles tackle this offseason. Robinson said his lack of playing time has no bearing on the club's thinking. Kittle has a track record, so team officials have an idea what he can accomplish if given the at-bats.
Under one possible scenario, the Orioles will pick up Kittle's option. He would then come to spring training, but not as a lock to make the team. The Orioles would reserve the right to release him before the bulk of his contract becomes guaranteed.
Kittle almost certainly would find that situation distasteful, and he likely will press Hemond on the issue of playing time. If the Orioles can not satisfy his demands, he probably will wind up elsewhere next season. There would be little sense keeping an unhappy veteran.
"There's a good group of guys here, a real sincere group of guys," Kittle said. "But you've got guys who should come to the tTC park not worrying if they're going to be in there or not. You've got guys afraid to make an out, worrying they're not going to play anymore."