Manager John Oates said last night that the No. 1 priority of the Baltimore Orioles' organization should be "to improve the pitching.
JTC "You can't have the worst ERA or close to it and win a division," he said. "It's very tough to win a championship without pitching."
The Orioles' 4.69 ERA is 13th in the American League -- a fraction ahead of only the Detroit Tigers, who are in second place in the AL East.
But Oates see hope in the future with the way "Bob Milacki is coming back around," the potential of Ben McDonald and the bullpen nucleus of Gregg Olson, Mark Williamson and Todd Frohwirth.
"And I see guys coming, [Mike] Mussina and [Arthur] Rhodes, who are going to help us," Oates said. "I think things are very encouraging around here."
Coincidentally, Mussina and Rhodes both won starts Wednesday night. Mussina, pitching for the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings, won a 4-3 decision over the Toledo Mud Hens, and Rhodes, for the Class AA Hagerstown Suns, shut out London, 1-0.
It was the first shutout of the season for Rhodes, who is 6-1 with a 2.28 ERA in Class AA. Mussina, the No. 1 draftee last summer, is 9-4 with a 3.10 ERA and is second in the International League with 98 strikeouts.
Ballard to start
Jeff Ballard threw 12 minutes on the side yesterday with "no problems" and will start tomorrow night against Oakland as scheduled.
He has been bothered by a bruised pectoral muscle after being hit in the chest by a batted ball during batting practice.
"I'll be going," he said. "It's not really bothering me too much when I throw. It did the longer I went into the game in my last start."
Ballard will be seeking to break a streak of 17 straight starts in which he has not won at Memorial Stadium (0-12). His last victory here as a starter was in September 1989.
Johnson stays in limbo
The status of pitcher Dave Johnson remained unchanged yesterday, but an organizational meeting today could provide a breakthrough.
"I've talked to a number of pitchers who have some nagging problems," said Oates. "In the next 24 hours, we'll know more about Dave.
"He could pitch again at Rochester or he could pitch here. For now, we have the same five starters."
Bill Ripken (rib cage) was throwing yesterday, but it was too early to determine whether he'll be able to leave DL on time. "He's starting to do a few things," said Oates. "He's hitting off the tee.". . . . Kevin Hickey cleared waivers yesterday without being claimed. "I'm sure he'll try to find some minor-league club somewhere if he can," said Oates. "He's only used up seven of his nine lives.". . . . Oates said Jose Mesa is still trying to iron out his problems at Rochester. "He's pitching the same way he was when he left here. He's in trouble a lot and his control isn't very good.". . . . Tonight will be the 3,000th game at Memorial Stadium. Only five other current parks have been the site of as many: Yankee Stadium, Cleveland Stadium, Fenway Park, Tiger Stadium and Wrigley Field. . . . Cal Ripken was named the league's best defensive shortstop by American League managers in the latest issue of Baseball America. Bill Ripken was chosen as the No. 2 second baseman behind Toronto's Roberto Alomar.