McDonald optimistic amid struggles Right-hander lasts 2 2/3 , sees some progress

April 29, 1991|By Don Markus

The numbers for Ben McDonald got worse yesterday. But the Baltimore Orioles thought their 23-year-old right-hander got better.

Despite his shortest stint in 17 major-league starts -- 2 2/3 innings, nine hits and four runs -- McDonald seemed a bit more optimistic than he was last week in Chicago.

"I threw some good pitches," McDonald said after the Orioles overcame the 4-1 deficit he left them with to beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 5-4, at Memorial Stadium. "When you're struggling, nothingseems to go your way."

Make no mistake. After missing the last two weeks of spring training and the first 11 days of the 1991 season with a strained flexor muscle in his right elbow, McDonald is having problems getting people out.

"Missing some bats," Orioles manager Frank Robinson said, when asked how McDonald could be more successful.

Unlike a six-hit, six-run, four-walk season debut in 4 2/3 innings of an 8-7 loss Monday against the White Sox, McDonald got his fastball over against the Brewers. The trouble is that it wasn't his best fastball.

It didn't come as a surprise to McDonald.

"Most pitchers could tell coming into a game, when they're warming up, whether they have their best stuff," said McDonald. "I didn't feel like I had it. It's just something you go through."

The concern over his right arm, which was evident after the loss in Chicago, wasn't there yesterday. He said that it's just a matter of time before the arm catches up with the rest of his body.

"My arm isn't hurting," said McDonald, who struck out one and threw 35 strikes in 46 pitches. "It's just a little dead right now. It's kind of like spring training. I'm just missing some innings. I'm not worried. It's going to come."

Said Orioles pitching coach Al Jackson: "It seems so pronounced when things aren't going well. If we had won 10 in a row, you wouldn't be asking these questions. I think he's still in spring training."

Or batting practice. Before being removed by Robinson after giving up three runs in the third inning, McDonald was smacked around for five straight hits, three on first-pitch fastballs down the middle.

"We got into a little groove," said Brewers outfielder Greg Vaughn, who singled twice off McDonald, the second of which brought on Bob Milacki. "He threw some pitches we could handle."

Said third basemen Gary Sheffield, who doubled off McDonald earlier in the inning: "He looked like he was throwing the ball OK. But the one thing he has to do better is get his breaking ball over. If you can't do that in this league, guys will wait for the fastball."

For McDonald, the inning in which the Brewers got six hits in seven at-bats was like one of his 95-mph fastballs: a blur. "It happened so fast, it was unbelievable," he said. "Maybe it happened once to me in college."

Asked about the smattering of boos directed his way, a rare occurrence at Memorial Stadium, McDonald smiled. "I've been booed everywhere," he said.

Perhaps McDonald's problems were overlooked amid a rare comeback victory. Or maybe they paled in comparison to the concerns surrounding first baseman Glenn Davis's potentially season-ending injury.

Or it merely was part of what happens to pitchers, especially young ones, during the course of a season. As Jackson said yesterday: "He made some good pitches, and they hit them. It's going to happen again."

Said Robinson: "To his credit, they maybe hit three or four pitches that were good pitches. It's not all something he did wrong."

McDonald believes he is better off getting his arm in shape with the Orioles than in the minor leagues, as he did for the first half of last season before coming back with an 8-5 record and a 2.43 ERA.

"Certainly I believe I can get people out," said McDonald, who saw his ERA soar to 12.27. "When you're struggling, it seems that you can't get away with anything. I threw a good curveball to [Robin] Yount that would have bounced on home plate, but he hit it for a single."

And it appears that the Orioles haven't lost confidence in their prized young pitcher. He just has to miss a few more bats the next time out.

Ben McDonald's third inning

f fTC

* Paul Molitor led off with a double on a 2-2 count.

* Jim Gantner executed a sacrifice bunt on the first pitch, moving Molitor to third.

* Gary Sheffield doubled to left on an 0-1 count, scoring Molitor, then stole third.

* Robin Yount singled to right on a 1-0 count, scoring Sheffield.

* Franklin Stubbs singled to right on the first pitch and was thrown out trying for a double. Yount moved to third.

* Darryl Hamilton singled to center on the first pitch, scoring Yount.

* Greg Vaughn singled to left on the first pitch, moving Hamilton to second. Bob Milacki replaced McDonald.

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