The way bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks sees it, elbow surgery brought pitching prosperity to Jose Mesa.
"He finally learned how to pitch," Hendricks said as Mesa prepared to face the Oakland A's in the finale of a three-game series tonight (7:35, HTS) at the stadium.
"Before that, he was a thrower. He'd just rear back and fire. The best thing that happened to him was that he got hurt."
With his 4-3 record, Mesa is the Orioles' leading winner. He has won three straight starts, becoming the first Oriole to do that since Ben McDonald and Dave Johnson did it almost in unison last summer. Mesa has gone at least seven innings in each of the three.
The righthander's fastball was timed in the mid-90s before two elbow operations, in 1988 and 1989. He pitched a total of only 39 innings those two seasons.
"He had to learn to pitch to survive," Hendricks said. "In the process, he developed a slider. Now he has command of that as well as his fastball, curve and changeup. He doesn't throw quite as hard as he used to, but he's right up there with Ben McDonald."
Hendricks recalls that when Cal Ripken Sr. was managing the Orioles, he was "enamored with Mesa's arm strength" in his pre-surgery days. Of course, the Orioles then had a corps of pitchers who threw in the mid-80s.
"Rip felt Mesa would be a major-league pitcher and that it was worth keeping him and working with him," Hendricks said.
Mesa provided the first sign that he had rebounded from surgery last season when the Orioles won all of his final five starts. "I could see the difference in his command of his pitches even while I was warming him up," Hendricks said.