The opening of spring training is less than three weeks away, and the Baltimore Orioles still are bulking up on organizational pitching depth.
Veteran left-hander Dennis Rasmussen signed a Class AAA contract with the Rochester Red Wings yesterday afternoon and has been invited to training camp to compete for a place in the major-league starting rotation.
Rasmussen, 32, was 6-13 with a 3.74 ERA in 24 starts for the San Diego Padres last season. He is coming off back-to-back losing seasons, but won 18 games for the New York Yankees in 1986 and has a career 39-24 record against American League competition.
"He has pitched good baseball in the American League," said general manager Roland Hemond, "and being a left-hander also helped. We aren't as deep in left-handed pitching."
Rasmussen will join a long list of candidates for the Orioles' starting rotation, but he figures to remain in the organization even if he fails to make the major-league club.
"We're giving him an opportunity to win a job in the spring," Hemond added, "but if he doesn't open with the club, he said he'd be prepared to go to Triple-A. You know how things go during the course of the season. Things happen. It's nice to have someone like him available."
The starting rotation was the club's major weakness in 1991. The Orioles fell behind by three runs or more in the first three innings in one of every four games. They used 12 starters during the year. Depth was a major problem.
Hemond has worked hard to make sure he has enough available arms to prevent a similar pitching collapse in 1992. He traded for veteran right-hander Storm Davis at the winter meetings and signed free agent Rick Sutcliffe a week later. He also has signed a handful of minor-league free agents to beef up the talent pool this spring.
The way things shape up now, Rasmussen would be a long shot to start the season in the major leagues. Ben McDonald, Mike Mussina, Bob Milacki, Sutcliffe and Davis, will enter spring training as the starting rotation of choice, with Rasmussen joining Jose Mesa, Arthur Rhodes and newcomer Eric Hetzel in the wings.