ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Rick Sutcliffe and Storm Davis were not pitcher perfect yesterday, not by any stretch of the imagination, but they didn't come here to win the Grapefruit League championship.
The Orioles might do that anyway if they continue to build on a four-game exhibition winning streak, but their two veteran newcomers were more interested in breaking a good sweat than breaking any spring training records.
Sutcliffe gave up a run on four hits in two innings and Davis gave up one run on two hits in two innings in the Orioles' 8-4 exhibition victory over the Chicago White Sox. The club is 4-0 in exhibition play for the first time since 1963, but the starting rotation's string of seven perfect innings ended when Sutcliffe walked Warren Newson with one out in the first.
It had to happen sooner or later. Bob Milacki had opened the exhibition season with three perfect innings against the St. Louis Cardinals. Ben McDonald followed with a six-up, six-down performance against the Kansas City Royals. Then Mike Mussina pitched two perfect innings against Toronto.
"They let us know," Sutcliffe said with a laugh. "I had gotten on Milacki after the first game. I told him the first guy should give up four or five runs so it looks like we're improving. Then McDonald pitched well and Mussina was ridiculous. When I walked the guy, almost argued with the umpire because I knew that everybody was laughing at me."
Sutcliffe went on to give up a run in the second inning on a hit by Norberto Martin. Davis gave up a run in the third on a hit by Bo Jackson before settling down to pitch a scoreless fourth. It wasn't particularly pretty, but both pitchers got their work in and got their 1992 spring debuts behind them.
"I really don't judge guys like that on the outcome or the results," manager John Oates said. "I want them to go out there and get their work in and stay healthy. If they are healthy, they'll be there."
Sutcliffe claims that his shoulder has not bothered him at any point this spring. Davis has been hampered by a sore heel, but not enough to keep him out of the spring training rotation. The two of them figure heavily in the club's pitching plans for 1992, and a rocky inning or two aside, yesterday was a step forward for each.
"I'm very pleased with the whole staff," Oates said. "They're throwing strikes. In spring training, I think your biggest downfall is pitchers who aren't throwing strikes. This staff has been good. They are pitching ahead of the count, and good things will happen to you when you do that."
Sutcliffe was not particularly sharp with his control, but his arm strength appeared to be fine, and he had enough command to hang in against a decent White Sox lineup.
"I tried to throw a little harder today than I did in the intrasquad game," he said. "Everything was up in the strike zone. It was not a great performance, but I got some good work in. I basically was trying to get comfortable, but I turned it up a little bit."
The Chicago media had come to Al Lang Stadium in force, both to witness Sutcliffe's spring debut and to continue the Bo Jackson watch. Jackson's battle with a degenerative hip injury has been one of the top stories of the spring, but there still is interest in the veteran pitcher who essentially was cut loose by the Chicago Cubs after two seasons of injury and uncertainty.
"There's some emotion there," Sutcliffe said. "I have friends over there. But, it's like a chapter in a book. It's over. I have no regrets and no hard feelings.
"It was [Cubs GM] Larry Himes' opinion that I couldn't help a team. Roland Hemond thought I could. I obviously thought I could or I wouldn't be here. But who knows? Himes might be right. If this thing blows up in a week, he can sit back and say I told you so."
The Orioles apparently don't think that will happen or they would not have invested $1.2 million in Sutcliffe's comeback. He is expected to anchor an otherwise youthful starting rotation that Oates hopes can put the team back in contention in the American League East. But the process of rebuilding the pitching staff has only begun.
"I was pleased for the first time out," pitching coach Dick Bosman said of Sutcliffe. "He warmed up really well and continues to show he's healthy and that he knows how to go about the business of getting ready for the season."
Davis also figures heavily in the club's pitching picture. He is coming off a couple of tough seasons, but will be the fifth starter if he doesn't pitch his way out of the rotation in the next few weeks. He struggled in his first inning, but seemed to settle in after that.
"The second inning was a lot better than the first," Bosman said. "He said he was a whole lot more focused in the second inning. It sounds simple, but the first time out, you're thinking about a lot of things."