McDonald and Milacki sing blues

April 08, 1991|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Evening Sun Staff Jim Henneman contributed to this story.

WASHINGTON -- There are those who dream elaborate dreams and wish for complicated things, like peace in our time or a quick exit out of Memorial Stadium any time there's a crowd of 50,000.

And then there are people like Orioles pitcher Ben McDonald, whose fondest hopes are for things that seem so simple, but appear to be so elusive.

"My goal next season is to get through spring training healthy," McDonald said yesterday from the clubhouse in RFK Stadium, where the Orioles closed the exhibition season with a 6-5 loss to Boston. After the game the Orioles announced McDonald would be placed on the 15-day disabled list to start the season, retroactive to March 29.

McDonald has been diagnosed as suffering from a strained flexor muscle in his right, or throwing, elbow. He must miss at least the first six games of the season, and is not eligible to return before next Sunday.

The team also announced it optioned starter Bob Milacki to its Double A farm team in Hagerstown and sent reserve first baseman David Segui and reliever Roy Smith to Triple A Rochester to get to the 25-player limit for today's season opener against Chicago.

In addition, the Orioles signed free-agent catcher Ernie Whitt and purchased the contract of reliever Paul Kilgus from Rochester.

McDonald -- who was named five weeks ago as the Opening Day starter and had been penciled in to start as many as six of the Orioles' first 21 games -- instead will watch from the sidelines for the second consecutive year. He missed last season's opener with a pulled muscle in the rib area.

McDonald threw in the bullpen here yesterday for about 12 minutes just before the exhibition game at what he called "70 percent" of his normal effectiveness.

The 6-foot-7 righthander said he felt fine on two of every three pitches he threw, but would feel a "dull pain" after the third throw.

"But that's not nearly as bad as it's been," said McDonald, 23.

He said he would take today off and pitch again on Tuesday and Thursday, toward a goal of being ready to return next Sunday.

"But I'm going to take it at my own pace," said McDonald. "If it takes a week after the 14th, or two weeks, so be it. If I'm not all the way healthy, then we'd have to take some time with it."

Pitching coach Al Jackson indicated the best thing might be for McDonald to make a rehabilitation start either in Florida, with the extended spring training team, or with Hagerstown or Rochester. "But we haven't talked about that yet," Jackson said. "It doesn't matter where he throws, just that he faces some hitters."

Yesterday's biggest surprise was the demotion of Milacki, who spent the past two full seasons with the parent club.

However, he was 0-2 in six spring training appearances, with an earned run average of 6.48, though he gave up just one earned run and four hits in five innings of the loss to Boston yesterday.

"The decision had already been made," said Milacki, obviously disappointed. "It didn't depend on what I did today. I felt the same as I did all spring. It's just that I had been falling behind hitters and experimenting with some things."

Milacki was 14-12 with a 3.74 earned run average in 1989 but dropped to 5-8 with a 4.46 ERA last season. "Things were starting to come together for me," he said yesterday. "I was starting to pitch a little better. My velocity's getting better."

In spite of all that, manager Frank Robinson said Milacki needs to pitch regularly, and with the Orioles' early-season schedule of 14 games in 18 days, the best place for him to work was Hagerstown.

"Milacki needs the work," Robinson said. "We wanted to get him into a regular rotation. He's heading in the right direction. The more he throws, the better he will be.

"This is better than if he sat around here and threw once in a while out of the bullpen," Robinson said. "Hopefully he'll be ready to go when we go to five starters."

Milacki chose Hagerstown over Rochester. "They gave me the choice," he said. "I picked Hagerstown because I could commute and won't have to move, or be away, from my family."

Jackson will watch Milacki pitch in Hagerstown on Thursday, before the team heads to Texas for a weekend series.

The optioning of Milacki leaves the Orioles with an early rotation of Jeff Ballard, Jose Mesa, Dave Johnson and Jeff Robinson, who will pitch Sunday in Texas. "It doesn't mean he [Robinson] will be the fourth starter, but right now he'll get the first shot," Frank Robinson said.

The other major development from the cuts was that the team will keep both third basemen -- Craig Worthington and Leo Gomez -- on the roster for now.

"They both deserved to be here; both of them being here makes us a better ballclub," said Robinson.

"I'm very happy," said Gomez, who was obviously relieved to make the team. "It's been a tough spring for both of us, going down to the last day. But we both had good springs."

Worthington finished with a .345 average and 17 runs batted in. He hit safely in 12 of the last 13 games, including a perfect 2-for-2 with a run scored yesterday and a fine defensive play to boot, as he threw out Tom Brunansky from the hole by a step in the second inning.

Gomez also hit well, getting a hit in seven of the last nine games and finished with a .333 average for the spring. He committed a base-running blunder in the sixth inning yesterday, failing to retouch second base on the way back to first after running on Bob Melvin's drive to center that was caught.

Segui, who hit .254 with nine RBIs this spring, will be working to get around the Orioles' logjam at first base when he joins Rochester. "We've told them that we want him to play the outfield at least three days a week," Robinson said. "He's learning, and he showed good instincts out there from the beginning. We know he can play first base -- if he can play the outfield, he makes himself even more valuable."

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