The Baltimore Orioles are not going to wait until spring training to sort out their pitching plans for 1992. The process has begun, and the club took another step into the future yesterday.
Right-hander Jose Mesa, who began the season in the major-league starting rotation, was summoned to Baltimore to start tonight's series finale against the Texas Rangers at Memorial Stadium.
The Orioles made a series of roster moves, though the elevation of Mesa has the most far-reaching significance. The club also recalled reliever Jose Bautista, who was on loan to the Class A Miami Miracle, optioned reliever Stacy Jones to the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings and placed setup man Mark Williamson on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his left side.
Bautista also started the season in the major leagues, but he has taken a circuitous route to get back. He was assigned to the Miracle roster, but also spent a month on loan to the Oklahoma City 89ers, the Class AAA affiliate of the Rangers organization.
He was recalled to pick up some innings for an overworked Orioles bullpen, but figures to be sent out again when Glenn Davis or Bill Ripken returns from the disabled list.
Mesa was brought back to finish the season in a youthful starting rotation that is beginning to take shape for the future. He was placed on the roster after last night's 10-2 victory and Jones was optioned after making just four major league appearances.
Manager John Oates said yesterday that Mesa, Ben McDonald, Bob Milacki and Mike Mussina will start every fifth day for the remainder of the season. The fifth starter will be Dave Johnson, but the emphasis is clearly on evaluating the younger arms over the final seven weeks of play.
"I want those four guys to get as many starts as we can get for them," Oates said.
The odd man out is right-hander Roy Smith, who was removed from the rotation yesterday and sent to the bullpen for an indefinite period.
Smith was one of few pitchers in the rotation with a winning record, but he had been hit hard in a couple of recent starts. The move to the bullpen is a signal that he is not prominent the club's long-term plans, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he will never again show up in the starting rotation.
He looked like a long-shot when he began the season with the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings, but circumstances conspired to give him another shot at the major leagues. He won more games than he lost, so he can't be ruled out as a candidate for the rotation.
"We don't know if these are the guys," Oates said. "You never know what might transpire over the winter. But it's time to see how people respond to situations. These are some pretty young arms."
Johnson's days in the rotation also might be numbered. Oates has expressed the desire to audition Class AA prospect Arthur Rhodes, who could fill the final slot in next year's rotation if all goes well.
The string of moves were announced yesterday afternoon, but they resulted from a late-night meeting between Oates and general manager Roland Hemond that followed the marathon doubleheader the night before.
Williamson's injury provided some of the impetus. He had to leave Tuesday night's second game after facing just one batter and knew immediately that the side strain wasn't going to be a day-to-day thing.
"We waited for the doctor to examine him today just to make sure," Oates said. "He said it would be a minimum of five days, maybe more. We couldn't wait five days."
The Orioles roster has been in an almost constant state of flux since Opening Day, and it doesn't figure to stabilize for at least a few weeks. Davis and Ripken are due back from the disabled list soon, and the Sept. 1 roster expansion will add several more minor-league prospects for the final five weeks of play.