ARLINGTON, Texas -- Right-hander Jeff Robinson still doesn' know what all the commotion was about, even though his 7.59 exhibition ERA left room to wonder whether he would be an effective member of the Baltimore Orioles' starting rotation.
He tried to convince everyone that there was no cause for alarm. Today, he'll get a chance to prove it when he faces all-time strikeout king Nolan Ryan in the series finale at Arlington Stadium.
Even manager Frank Robinson had to wonder after the veteran right-hander was knocked around in a series of early exhibition appearances. The manager said he wanted to see steady improvement. The pitcher said he was working his arm into shape the way he always did. If there was a difference of opinion, it didn't last very long.
"I went in before the last two starts to talk to him," Jeff Robinson said. "I said, I hope you're not getting too excited and thinking this is a reflection of what it's going to be like during the season. He told me, because of what I've done in the past, I didn't have to prove myself in spring training."
What they had early in the spring was a slight failure to communicate. Jeff knew what he wanted to do. Frank knew what he wanted Jeff to do. But the expectations didn't match up.
"I think one of the problems was that we were never on the same wavelength," the manager said. "He was going to go one way and work within his routine. My thinking was, I wanted to see some results a little earlier, but he was building up his arm strength."
For the former Detroit Tigers right-hander, there was also a little bit of culture shock. He couldn't believe how much media attention was focused on each spring training appearance.
"I got a kick out of how much emphasis was placed on it," he said. "Spring training is where you go to do what you have to do to get ready."
Perhaps the exhibition statistics don't reflect it, but Robinson says he is ready to put two years of physical problems behind him and get back to pitching the way he did on the way to a 13-6 record in 1988.
"I feel like I'm closer now to getting back to the way I was in 1988 than I have been in a couple of years," he said. "It's just a matter of a couple of little things that are keeping me from being there."
Robinson said that today will mark the fourth time he has pitched against Ryan.
"We've had a couple of pretty good games and there was one game when we both got hammered pretty good," he said. "I like to watch him work, but I don't have to hit against him."
Evans shines in right
Right fielder Dwight Evans made a spectacular diving catch in the first inning to rob Ruben Sierra of a run-scoring double and made a diving one-hop stab to deny Rafael Palmeiro extra bases in the fifth.
It was Evans' third start in right field in the first four games of the season, but he has shown no sign of the back soreness that limited him to designated-hitter duty throughout his final season with the Boston Red Sox.
Evans also singled twice in his first three at-bats and drove in his first run of the season.
Flanagan gives up first hits
Left-hander Mike Flanagan gave up his first hits of 1991, but pitched two scoreless innings of relief to extend his season-opening scoreless string to five innings. Over that span, Flanagan has struck out five and walked one, but has not been involved in a decision or recorded a save.
Bell to start against Ryan
Utility man Juan Bell probably will be in the starting lineup today when the Orioles face Ryan.
Bell, who has not appeared in a game this season, will give Bill Ripken a day off at second base, said manager Frank Robinson.
"I just want to get him some at-bats and get him in the field," Robinson said, "but I probably won't tell him until tomorrow. I don't want him lying awake all night."
Bell was one of the most productive hitters in spring training, batting .327.
McDonald reports stiffness
Right-hander Ben McDonald reported mild stiffness in his right elbow the day after an 18-minute workout Friday that incorporated all the pitches in his repertoire, but McDonald said he would remain on schedule for a possible April 22 start against the Chicago White Sox.
"It was a little stiff," he said. "I threw a good amount of pitches yesterday, so I don't think that is unusual." McDonald is scheduled to pitch on the side today and appear in a minor league game on Wednesday in anticipation of his first Orioles start of 1991 five days later.
Downing activated by Rangers
Designated hitter Brian Downing, who became a free agent after 13 seasons with the California Angels, was activated by the Rangers in time to be in the leadoff spot last night.
Downing has been with the club since he came to spring training as a non-roster invitee, but suffered a hairline fracture of the left wrist during the final week of the exhibition season.