HAGERSTOWN -- If Bob Milacki pitches any better than he did last night, the Baltimore Orioles will have a difficult time keeping him in the minors.
The big right-hander with the devastating change-up and four-pitch arsenal had Class AA hitters frozen in their spikes for five shutout innings at Municipal Stadium in his 1991 debut for the Hagerstown Suns, getting the victory as the Suns beat the Williamsport Bills, 9-1.
Milacki, optioned to the Suns on Sunday after a mediocre spring training, allowed one hit, a bouncing single through the middle by Rico Cortes in the fifth. He walked two.
He pitched with command and purpose, striking out eight and permitting only one runner through four innings -- on a walk to former Penn State University and Minnesota Vikings running back D. J. Dozier. He threw 76 pitches, 49 for strikes.
Orioles pitching coach Al Jackson said: "I came to see whether he was consistent in the [strike] zone. He was. I came to see him maintain his fastball. He did. I'd say the hitters were overmatched."
Milacki's only jam came when a second walk and Cortes' single put runners on first and second with two out in the fifth.
The next batter, Rudy Hernandez, hit a line drive, but Hagerstown second baseman Rod Lofton made a catch with the ball beyond him, ending Milacki's outing with the Suns leading, 3-0.
"Down here, I'm going to have to think about pitching by myself and not relying on the catcher to call the game," said Milacki. "I think that's going to help."
Unlike Ben McDonald and Gregg Olson, who spent a limited time preparing to become Orioles, Milacki is familiar with the nuances of the umpires and the quirks of play at this level after five seasons in the minors.
"I had a feel for what the umps are like and knew that down here the hitters aren't as smart," he said. "They can hit the straight fastball. Maybe that's why those guys had some problems."
He was nervous at the start, but once he emerged from a 1-2-3 first inning with two strikeouts, Milacki settled into an excellent groove. He had only three 3-0 counts all night and struck out one of those batters.
"I didn't want somebody roping one off the wall right away. I was a little worried about that," he said. "So I felt my way through the first and got right into rhythm."
Then, it was a matter of stamina.
"We left it up to him how far he went," said Jackson. "He was on a fourth day and had thrown extensively a couple days ago. I think he got a little tired in the fifth."
"I was stiffening up a little bit," Milacki said.
The schedule calls for Milacki to make two more starts for the Suns, the next one Tuesday at New Britain (Conn.). After that, his status will be re-evaluated.
"I don't expect to be called up right away," he said. "They [Orioles] don't want to promise me anything or do something to get me mad. I'm glad they were honest about it."
The Suns scored four in the seventh and two in the eighth to put the game away. Left-hander Kevin Hickey, another pitcher who was with the Orioles last year, worked the ninth, giving up two hits and striking out two.