Ballard picks free agency over assignment to minors Orioles clear roster space, releasing Kilgus, McKnight

October 18, 1991|By Peter Schmuck

Left-hander Jeff Ballard, who won 18 games during the Baltimore Orioles' surprising "Why Not?" season in 1989, will opt for free agency today -- just 48 hours after the club outrighted him to the Class AAA RochesterRed Wings roster.

General manager Roland Hemond announced yesterday that Ballard had been outrighted Tuesday and that release waivers had been requested on relief pitcher Paul Kilgus and utility player Jeff McKnight. Ballard was the only one who had the option of staying in the organization, but he said yesterday that he would exercise his right to free agency instead.

"My agent will call Roland tomorrow [today] and let him know," said Ballard, from his home in Billings, Mont. "This is not somethingI didn't expect. I knew I wasn't in their plans. They were nice and considerate to do it early so I could contact other teams."

His decision will not come as a surprise to the Orioles, either. He said in September that he would choose free agency before he would take a chance on getting lost in the Orioles' minor-league system.

"That's probably what will happen, judging from the comments he made, but I can't speak for him," Hemond said. "He is a three-year man and it's his second outright, so he'll have the opportunity to determine what he wants to do."

In 1989, Ballard led Orioles pitchers in victories and was the American League's winningest left-hander, but he has not been the same since undergoing elbow surgery twice in November of that year. He won just two games in 1990 and went 6-12 with a 5.60 ERA in 1991.

"He worked hard at it," Hemond said, "but unfortunately didn't get the results he was hoping for. That doesn't mean that his career is over. Players have come back."

Ballard, 28, probably came back too soon in 1990. He pitched in pain all year and had pitched his way out of the starting rotation by midseason. He came back to pitch well last spring, but poor offensive support cost him some early-season decisions, and his performance deteriorated in June and July. He was optioned to Rochester along with Kilgus and Jeff Robinson on July 30, then returned to make one ill-fated start in October.

Ballard could have taken up to eight days from the date of the outright assignment to determine his next move, but there wasn't much to think about. He had indicated that he feels he would have a better chance of working his way back into a major-league starting rotation with another organization.

He should have no problem finding a Class AAA job and an invitation to spring training with another major-league club. Experienced left-handers are not in great supply, and he pitched well enough last spring to be the Orioles' Opening Day starter.

"I don't foresee any problems there," Ballard said. "I imagine there are two or three teams out there who might be interested in offering me a serious chance. There are a lot of teams that are struggling with their pitching. "It's not the best position to be in, but I'm not overly concerned about my opportunities for next year. It's tough, but if I can go out and get on a big-league team and have a decent year, this all will be forgotten. I know I can do better than I did this year."

The Orioles made the three moves to open space on the 40-man roster for the minor-league prospects they will have to protect before the Rule V draft in December. Hemond would not rule out further roster reductions.

Kilgus, 29, made the club as a non-roster invitee last spring, but he was optioned to Rochester along with Ballard and Robinson after going 0-2 with a 5.08 ERA in 38 appearances.

McKnight, 28, played 16 games at the major-league level, batting .171, before a wrist injury forced him onto the disabled list. He eventually underwent surgery to repair a recurring shoulder problem and did not return to action.

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