Decision time has arrived for Orioles

April 26, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

It's not the first test, and it's not the final exam either. But the experiments are over. The lab work is done.

Now, the Orioles have to get down to making serious decisions. The five-man rotation moves into place for the first time, starting tonight. The designated hitter's spot could take on a new look. And the final makeup of the roster will begin to take shape.

The Orioles will play more than two games in a row at home for the first time this season during the next six days. By the time DTC they leave for their first West Coast trip of the year, a week from today, some unanswered questions should be closer to resolution.

Against the Milwaukee Brewers this weekend, all three of the Orioles' starters will be working with extra rest. Tonight's starter, Jose Mesa (1-2, 2.45) was pushed back because of yesterday's off-day.

Jeff Robinson (1-1, 5.00), who will pitch tomorrow night, has had a full week to savor his first win as an Oriole because manager Frank Robinson had to paint Ben McDonald into the picture as soon as possible.

McDonald (0-1, 11.57) gets an extra day after his first start Monday simply because it's the easiest way to align a five-man rotation that was intended to revolve around him in the first place.

Originally, McDonald's turn was scheduled to come up every fifth day, regardless of the rotation. When the big righthander went down with a tender arm, things changed and the rigid schedule became flexible. Now McDonald is back and Robinson would like to return to Plan A as soon as possible.

But to do it, he's been forced to tack idle days between appearances for his starters while juggling a four-man bullpen that can get overworked in a hurry. With five starters lined up for the next five games, Robinson will add a 10th pitcher very soon. He almost has no choice.

The most likely candidate is Bob Milacki, who has toyed with Eastern League hitters long enough to compile a 3-0 record at Double A Hagerstown. But whether the big righthander can step into a long relief role if necessary is part of the unknown equation.

"We don't know if he can do that," said pitching coach Al Jackson. "He's always been a starter and we don't know how he would react if he had to pitch in two straight games."

Robinson, while not necessarily endorsing the notion, does not rule out the possibility of Milacki returning as a long reliever. "There's no reason why he couldn't do it," said Robinson. "He hasn't done it in the past, but that doesn't mean he can't handle it."

The Orioles haven't had anyone for the long relief role since they put Jose Bautista on waivers a week ago. And they've made no attempt to fill that spot, even though the days of necessity are rapidly approaching.

While Robinson tries to sort out his pitching staff, which is the key to any hopes for an AL East title, he'll also continue to give consideration to the DH spot usually manned by Sam Horn against righthanders.

Joe Orsulak went 6-for-15 with five runs batted in during the three-game series with the White Sox, and figures to stay in the lineup. That might not bode well for Horn, who is second on the club with nine RBIs, but has struck out in 19 of his 36 plate appearances.

With first baseman Glenn Davis ready to return to the lineup despite a slightly strained hamstring, Robinson will have to deal with the necessity of finding room for Horn, Orsulak and Randy Milligan, and the reality of being able to get only two of the three into the lineup at the same time.

The easiest solution would be to spot Milligan as the DH, and keep Orsulak in the lineup against righthanded pitchers. The availability of position players will decrease whenever Robinson decides to add a 10th pitcher to his staff. Every indication, especially if five pitchers start in the next five days, is that move is imminent.

Adding Milacki makes sense because Robinson is far from being locked in on five starters. Having Milacki on the scene ready to step in if needed seemingly makes the most sense at the moment. The Orioles may not want to risk him in the bullpen, but neither can they afford to waste him in Hagerstown.


Whatever pitching changes might be made in the near future, they won't involve Joe Price. The lefthander was treated rudely while supposedly auditioning for the Orioles in Rochester, and yesterday, at his request, he was given his release. That leaves Kevin Hickey, like Milacki currently pitching at Double A Hagerstown, as the most viable lefthanded alternative for the pitching staff.

In another minor-league move yesterday, the Orioles announced that Bautista had cleared waivers and has been assigned on loan to Single A Miami. Bautista lives in Miami, so the move is one of convenience more than anything else.


Beth Cline, one of the workers on the new stadium, will sing the national anthem before tonight's game. Almost 500 Camden Yard workers and their families will be guests of the Orioles at tonight's game.

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