Milacki zeros in on opener Adds 4 scoreless innings to spring of redemption

March 15, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Bob Milacki took another step toward an Opening Day assignment and possible redemption here yesterday.

The right-hander hung up four more scoreless innings in his third exhibition appearance, as the Orioles beat the Kansas City Royals, 6-3, to improve their preseason record to 6-3.

Milacki was the starting pitcher in the last major-league game played at Memorial Stadium, last Oct. 6 -- a performance he'd just as soon forget.

"A lot of people won't ever remember me pitching in that game," said Milacki, who gave up five runs (four earned) in 2 2/3 innings. "They won't remember anybody pitching, except Mike [Flanagan].

"But it was a big disappointment for me. It was tough for me to go out after the game -- until I got on the field. Then I realized that the game was meaningless.

"Still, I was disappointed. I knew Mike wanted to be the last pitcher to throw at Memorial Stadium and I'm sorry I couldn't help give him the chance.

"I'd like a chance to redeem myself for the failure I was -- but I don't think any of us [starters] will be disappointed if we don't get it [the Opening Day assignment].

"But everybody would be happy to pitch that game."

Because he pitched the first exhibition game, Milacki was the early-line favorite to throw the first pitch in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. And his performance in spring training (one run in 10 innings) has done nothing to hurt his chances.

However, there's still a long way to go before manager John Oates has to make a decision -- and his rotation is such that he'll be well-prepared should Milacki not get the nod. Rick Sutcliffe is pitching a day ahead of Milacki in the rotation, and Ben McDonald a day behind.

Oates will probably make a decision after two more appearances by the starters.

In the meantime, Milacki is going about his spring work with a different attitude from a year ago. "I'm not working on anything in particular, other than refining what I have," he said.

"Last year I spent a lot of time trying to be quicker to the plate with runners on base.

"I didn't realize I was pitching for a job, and it probably cost me," said Milacki, who opened last season with the Double-A Hagerstown Suns. "This year I'm taking nothing for granted -- although I think I've pitched well enough to know I've got a spot."

That, of course, is an understatement. Oates went on record early as saying Milacki did not have to prove anything this spring. Judging by the results so far, that approach has been successful.

"Sometimes when you worry too much about being quick to the plate, you lose contact with the [strike] zone," said Milacki. "If you end up walking the guy, what difference does it make if you've held the runner close?

"I think I've found a happy medium with my delivery out of the stretch. I can go quick when I have to -- but I'm picking my spots."

He seems to be picking them at the right time. The only two runners who have tried to steal against Milacki have been thrown out.

"I'm still trying to get ahead of the hitters with a little more consistency," said Milacki. "I'm doing it for the most part, but I'd like to be a little more consistent."

The key, he says, is his ability to come inside with his fastball. "When I do that, I'm more effective," he said, "and I'd like to be a little more consistent with that pitch.

"The fastball to [Wally] Joyner was an example," Milacki said of the Kansas City first baseman's double in the fourth inning. "It started out inside, but came back over the plate. That's the kind of pitch I want to stay away from."

In yesterday's game, the Orioles again jumped to an early lead, scoring four times on eight hits in the first two innings against right-hander Mark Gubicza. Cal Ripken continued his hot pace with three hits, and Randy Milligan had two hits plus a walk and drove in two runs.

The win was the second straight for the Orioles, who opened the exhibition season with four straight victories and then lost three in a row -- all in the last inning.

Through it all, the Orioles' pitching, especially the starters, has been superb. "Our concentration has been on staying away from the big inning," said Milacki.

"It's something we talk about all the time. Jim Palmer always said that if you have to give up one run to get three outs, do it. If we can stay away from the big inning, we'll be OK."

So far, with one exception, the Orioles have been able to do that. Todd Frohwirth, who pitched a scoreless ninth inning yesterday, was hammered for four runs by the Phillies last Wednesday.

Even though it's still only the exhibition season, and not even the halfway mark, the consistency of the Orioles' starters has been the most pleasing aspect of spring training.

And right at the head of the list is Bob Milacki, who doesn't want to pick up where he left off a year ago -- he just wants a chance to get a new year and a new park off to a good start.

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