McDonald: Ace or wild card?

May 23, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

DETROIT -- Can't anybody around here pitch this game?

To paraphrase the title of Casey Stengel's autobiography, that'a question the Orioles have to be asking themselves today.

Another early pounding, another monster inning last nighpushed the Orioles deeper into what looks like an unescapable hole. This time it was Ben McDonald, who has hardly looked the part of a staff ace in his seven starts, who took an early powder.

McDonald was charged with six runs in the second inninwithout retiring a batter in the 9-5 loss to the Detroit Tigers that shoved the Orioles back into last place in the American League East.

These early exits are becoming commonplace among thOrioles' starters, but they are perhaps most noticeable when the guy who is supposed to be the staff workhorse is involved. What makes this one so hard to take is the fact that McDonald was coming off his first complete game of the year, a six-hitter last Friday against California.

Within the last three weeks, four of the current five starters havhad a start where they failed to last more than one inning. Jeff Robinson and Jose Mesa both had outings where they were dismissed after one-third of an inning.

Bob Milacki, in his only start of the year to date, went them onlone out better. And Jeff Ballard has had two starts recently where he's been unable to make it to the fourth inning.

Last night, after routinely retiring the first three hitters he facedMcDonald looked more formidable than he had at any other time this year. But he didn't get another hitter out.

"I don't know what it is with the starters," manager FranRobinson said. "They don't get the ball over the plate, they don't make [good] pitches, they walk people, they give up base hits.

"Before you know it, you have a big inning, you're out of it beforyou even get started," said Robinson. "It's all too familiar. I've seen it too often already this year. It's happening way too often."

McDonald, ineffective in four of his seven starts, seems amystified as anybody. "I don't understand it," he said. "I thought I had good stuff in the first inning. I threw hard and had a good curveball -- the best one I've had this year."

But one of the 6-foot-7 righthander's main assets is supposed to be control. That hasn't been the case this year, especially last night.

"He had a good curve, but after the first inning he couldn't geanything over the plate," said Robinson. "I don't know what it is -- he was all over the place."

Cecil Fielder led off the second inning with a home run anMickey Tettleton followed with a walk. "After I walked Mickey and got into the stretch, it got ugly," said McDonald.

"That's when I have the most trouble with my control, and prettsoon I was really fighting it. You get to a point where you're hoping for a miracle -- that you can throw it over and get a double play and start all over again."

After Tettleton's walk, McDonald never had another chance tthrow a pitch out of the windup -- but he said the homer didn't have any effect on him. "I got behind him and he knew a fastball was coming," said McDonald. "I'm going to give up some home runs in those situations. But then I walked Mickey and that's when everything seemed to come apart.

"It got to the point where I felt like I had never been on a mounbefore," said McDonald. "It's something I've got to work on -- it's definitely mechanical.

"Pitching out of the stretch is when you have to have goocontrol, because you're already in some trouble," said McDonald. "That's when you have to be even more consistent."

McDonald had made some changes in his delivery with men obase in an effort to restrict potential base-stealers, but has gone back to his old style (using a high rather than low leg kick). "They felt the other way may have put more of a strain on my arm," said McDonald. "But it's an adjustment I've got to make. The next time I throw I'll use the windup just to loosen up, then throw all my pitches out of the stretch."

He is the most important cog of the starting rotation, buMcDonald still is only one big piece of the overall puzzle. The Orioles' team earned run average has risen to an astronomical 4.96, which brings us back to the original question.

Can't anybody around here pitch this game?

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