Orioles are in good company nearly everyone's uncertain about their pitching

The Inside Stuff

April 08, 1991|By Bill Tanton

When the White Sox worked out at Memorial Stadium yesterday they were visited by an old friend and adversary, Hall of Famer Jim Palmer.

Somebody asked the ex-Orioles pitcher how the O's are going to be this year.

"It depends on their pitching," Palmer said.

That's the trouble. Orioles pitching is in disarray.

Their best starter, Ben McDonald, was to have pitched today's opener. Instead, he's on the disabled list with a sore elbow. Their best reliever, Gregg Olson, was slowed by shoulder soreness last week, though he's now available to pitch.

Welcome to the club, O's.

Look around the American League East and you'll find that everybody's pitching is in disarray or just plain weak.

That's the nature of baseball these days. Most of the majors' 26 clubs are short of pitching. Some are desperate for it. And to think expansion is coming in '93.

You won't believe which club the Orioles feel has the best pitching in the AL. It's a club that has never had a winning season, that finished 26 games back last year: Seattle, with Erik Hanson, Randy Johnson, Brian Holman and closer Mike Schooler.

If that's the best pitching in the league, the Orioles may not be as bad off as people think. Still, I can't see them finishing better than third.

Jeff Torborg, who won Manager of the Year awards last year by lifting the White Sox to a 94-win season and second-place finish in the West, agrees there's a pitching shortage.

"Nobody's pitching is that strong," said Torborg. "Everybody needs starters."

Going into the season, Torborg is concerned about the health of two of his pitchers, 43-year-old Charlie Hough and Melido Perez. But Torborg is concerned about something else, too, something the Orioles know from personal experience: the letdown after a big season.

Chicago came out of nowhere last year and had a big season. That's what the O's did in 1989, winning 87 games after taking only 54 the year before. Last year the club tailed off to 76 wins and a sixth-place finish.

It's a subject Torborg discussed with Orioles manager Frank Robinson at the All-Star Game last year.

"It's hard to maintain that after a big year," Torborg said. "It'll be hard for us to top 94 wins. But we have good character. We just have to play our game, doing the little things. We won 83 games by two or less runs last year. We have to play with the same level of intensity."

There's another striking similarity between the Orioles and the White Sox. The Chisox last year said goodbye to ancient Comiskey Park. The club will christen Comiskey Park II in 10 days. The Orioles, headed for Camden Yards in '92, have their final Opening Day on 33rd Street today.

"We had that in Chicago last year," said Torborg, "the final Opening Day at an old park the fans were used to. For a lot of people, that was sad. It hurts to see the last game at a park where you may once have gone with someone who's no longer with us.

"I remember when I was a kid going with my dad to see the Giants at the old Polo Grounds in New York. I know how I felt when they tore that down."

That's very sensitive on Torborg's part. When you reflect that way on leaving Memorial Stadium, it's enough to make just about any one of us feel sentimental.

* Carlton Fisk, the White Sox catcher, is truly amazing, and not just because he's 43 years old and is in the starting lineup today. Fisk had arthroscopic surgery on both knees last year.

"Fisk is special," says his manager, Torborg. "When you have a guy like him who's on his way to the Hall of Fame, you use him. His presence in there means a lot. We don't know how he's going to hold up but we're going to start him and see how far he can go."

* Chicago shortstop Ozzie Guillen welcomed the quiet of the empty stands during yesterday's workout at Memorial Stadium. He knows that Baltimore baseball fans, who packed the place today, are not happy that he won the AL's Gold Glove Award last year.

They feel, naturally, that Cal Ripken Jr. should have won it after a year in which he broke at least 11 major-league or AL defensive records.

I'd like to think our fans, during this two-game series here against the White Sox, will show respect for Guillen's talent and his play in 1990. After all, he didn't have anything to do with the voting. He just played -- and what a year he had: .279 average, 58 runs batted in, 17 errors (to three by Ripken).

"It's a great honor to win the Gold Glove," the 5-foot-11, 150-pound Guillen said with a smile. "But that was last year. This is a new year."

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