ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- For those insisting on checking his grades during the spring semester, Rick Sutcliffe has a message.
"I didn't throw as well as I would have liked -- or as well as I will," Sutcliffe said after pitching the first two innings as the Orioles won their fourth straight exhibition game, 8-4, over the Chicago White Sox. "It's going to get a lot better."
And, for the record, manager John Oates is not one of those keeping a report card on Sutcliffe during the exhibition season. For the veteran righthander not to be a member of the Orioles' starting rotation come Opening Day, he would have to be injured.
"He doesn't have to show me anything down here," said Oates. "He'll be out there until they completely run him out of town.
"And," the manager said for emphasis, "it ain't going to happen."
So much for veterans having to prove themselves in the spring.
Sutcliffe doesn't feel as though he's on trial, but he also knows there are new faces to impress. "I don't have anything to prove," he said, before reconsidering. "But then again, I've got a lot to prove."
The words are contradictory, but the bottom line is that Oates is committed to him as one of five starters -- and the veteran knows it.
Sutcliffe gave up four hits and a run in the two innings he worked yesterday. He was the first of the five front-runners for starting jobs to allow a baserunner. "I heard about it," said Sutcliffe, indicating that his new teammates reminded him of the fact.
"As much as he can give it out, he's going to hear something whenever he does anything wrong," said Oates, who was a catcher for the Dodgers when Sutcliffe was a rookie and a coach for the Chicago Cubs when the righthander was traded there from the Cleveland Indians in 1984.
Behind Sutcliffe yesterday was Storm Davis and he, too, had one rough inning, giving up two hits and a run in the third inning. But the two-time Oriole recovered nicely, striking out two.
"I don't judge those guys on their results, or the outcome," said Oates. "If they were younger guys -- yes, they'd have to show me more. But they are veteran pitchers who know how to get themselves ready."
In the process of getting himself ready, Sutcliffe also is trying to get acquainted with the other pitchers on the staff. Even though he was scheduled to dress for only one of the four games thus far, he watched two of the other three in anticipation of perhaps being able to help the younger pitchers.
"It feels strange having to leave tickets for myself to see the game," he said. "I feel like I have to do that, because it's the only way I'll know what they're talking about when we have a discussion."
Sutcliffe said he has been impressed with what he's seen of the young Orioles starters to date. "I've only seen [Ben] McDonald throw on the side, because I was scheduled to do weights the day he pitched in Haines City [Saturday]," said Sutcliffe.
"But I watched [Bob] Milacki in the first game, and [Mike] Mussina -- it was ridiculous watching him yesterday, he was throwing so good. Every day he [Mussina] reminds me more and more of [former Cubs teammate] Greg Maddux."
Perhaps more than anybody else, Sutcliffe realizes that the three young starters will carry the brunt of the Orioles' pitching burden. "We're asking a lot of those three guys," he said, "but that's the only way we can contend."
That doesn't mean Sutcliffe counts himself out of a meaningful role. "I never considered myself the ace in Chicago," said the righthander who signed with the Orioles as a free agent only after he was convinced he didn't figure into the Cubs' plans.
"Right now, as far as Opening Day goes, I think you could put four, five or six of us in a hat. I just want to be one of five guys we can count on to do the job."
Yesterday, Sutcliffe was about how you would expect a 35-year-old veteran to be in his first appearance of the spring. He showed a little bit here, a little bit there, got in a jam, got out without serious damage. In other words he survived.
"The velocity was OK," he said. "Probably about 84 or 85 [mph], and that's OK. There's more there if I need it.
"I was overstriding, overthrowing the ball, but my stuff was about what I expected. Usually my game is moving the ball around, but that wasn't there. I was trying to throw down and the ball went up."
It didn't matter to Oates. "He's the kind of guy who's going to pitch exactly the opposite now of the way he'll pitch during the season," said the manager.
"Do you think he's going to show the 3-and-2 slider on the corner? He'll go to his third or fourth pitch down here, and get the guy thinking 'that's what he threw me in spring training, that's what he'll throw me now.'
"Rick's not like that. We told him to crowd [pitch inside] one hitter, but he's not going to do it down here. He's going to be around here awhile, I'm not worried about him."