Orioles hurting, Astros benefiting from Davis trade Harnisch, Schilling, Finley play regularly

May 21, 1991|By Kent Baker

The other half of the Glenn Davis trade is living well.

While Davis is rehabilitating from the nerve injury that has kept him on the disabled list for nearly a month, the three former Baltimore Orioles swapped for him are pitching and playing regularly, learning about the National League and enjoying where they are.

"The trade is past us," said outfielder Steve Finley, who joined the Houston Astros with pitchers Pete Harnisch and Curt Schilling on Jan. 10. "We still keep up with the Orioles because we have friends in Baltimore, but we're concentrating on our new surroundings."

None of them is doing it better than Harnisch, who was leading the National League in ERA until his first troublesome outing of five runs in five innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates last week.

His ERA is up to 3.06, but he was brilliant in a previous start against the Pirates, losing a two-hitter, 1-0, to Zane Smith in a game completed in 1 hour, 45 minutes, shortest in the league since 1981.

At that point, Harnisch had allowed one run in 22 1/3 innings.

"I'm very happy now," said Harnisch. "I'm relaxed, and there's no pressure, because I know I'm going to get the ball. They've made me feel like I'm one of their main guys, an important part of the rotation."

"He's a piece of work," said Astros manager Art Howe, "quite a battler, that young man. At times, he's probably too intense because he expects so much of himself. But he's a great fit here."

Howe said Harnisch easily could be 6-1 instead of 2-3 "with any run support. We just haven't hit with him out there."

Harnisch, 11-11 while becoming the only Oriole to stay in the rotation all of last year, said he is throwing as he did at Fordham University, when he was at his best.

"I'm getting big strikeouts with my curve ball. All my breaking pitches are better. I've been consistent since that first game," he said.

In his Astros debut, he walked eight in five innings against the world champion Cincinnati Reds, but did not give up a hit and won, 4-1.

"I've had six good starts [of seven]," he said. "Where I'm really struggling is at the plate [1-for-13]. Live pitching is totally different to face. I really can't hit breaking balls."

Schilling is 1-for-1 at the plate, a single off fearsome Reds reliever Rob Dibble in his first major-league at-bat. It was the hit that precipitated a brawl between Dibble and Eric Yelding, who received a pitch behind his head as the next batter.

The Astros have made Schilling a closer, a role he never had filled. He has been a starter, a middle man and a setup man for Gregg Olson last year when Mark Williamson was hurt.

"It's lots of fun," said Schilling. "The ups and downs are greater than I expected, as high as you can get and no lower lows. But I love coming to the park with a chance to pitch every day.

"When I look back now, I have to give credit to Frank [Robinson, Orioles manager] for letting me work up and down the staff, giving me experience in all areas."

Schilling is 5-for-7 in save conversions, saving the first three road victories. But he has been shaky occasionally, retiring only eight of 15 first batters faced and allowing six of 10 inherited runners to score. He has an 0-3 record after pitching 20 2/3 innings.

"The important thing is somebody wants me," he said. "I look at it as Boston [his original team] giving me a chance, Baltimore bringing me to the big leagues and Houston giving me a role. But if and when I become a free agent, the Orioles are the first place I'll look."

Howe said he likes Schilling's competitive nature, but thinks "he may try too hard in games Harnisch pitches."

In that situation five times, Schilling has two saves, one blown save, his first defeat (1-0 on a homer by the Chicago Cubs' Steve Decker) and a no-decision in a game the Astros lost, 2-1.

"He throws strikes, wants the ball and has a nice splitter," said Howe "He realized he wouldn't pitch much as a fifth starter, and we needed a closer. With his stuff, he was a clear candidate. And he doesn't let yesterday affect him, a lot like Dave Smith [a former Astro lost to free agency]."

Schilling has 23 strikeouts and 10 walks.

After a quick start, Finley cooled off at the plate (3-for-37), but he has raised his average again to the .260 vicinity. He said he hasn't had the best of luck.

"My average didn't show it, but I was swinging well," he said. "And I'm staying in center field, where I don't have to worry how the ball is going to curve coming at me."

Howe said Finley has "been having good at-bats He just wasn't hitting many holes. And he's not afraid to take pitches, an intelligent hitter."

The differences between the National and American League have already made an impact.

"I've gotten hit for in an 0-0 game in the eighth inning," said Harnisch "That was strange. And there is a lot of [Astro] Turf over here plus we play in a [Astro]dome I'm a baseball-outside person."

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