Sutcliffe's focus drifts toward Monday Opening Day on mind in rough outing, he says

April 02, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Rick Sutcliffe may be the steady veteran who is going to stabilize the Orioles pitching staff, but even he is not immune to the excitement that is building in Baltimore.

Sutcliffe caught himself getting caught up in the Opening Day hoopla yesterday, and the Chicago White Sox caught him on the chin in his final start of spring training. He worked six innings and gave up 11 hits on the way to a 4-0 loss at Ed Smith Stadium, then wondered aloud whether he was too busy looking ahead to Monday's opener at Oriole Park at Camden Yards to maintain the proper level of concentration.

"This is not an excuse, but it was hard not to focus on the Cleveland Indians [Monday's opponent] today," said Sutcliffe, who ended his exhibition season with a 113-pitch performance that was still good enough to prove his right shoulder is sound. "I'm getting excited like everybody else. It's show time."

Sutcliffe has started seven season openers -- two for the Indians (1983-84) and five for the Chicago Cubs (1985-89) -- but Monday's game will be more than just a season opener, it will be his Orioles debut. It will be the new ballpark's regular-season debut. It will be, according to Sutcliffe, a day that Baltimore will never forget.

"It's not like any of the others," he said. "It's more like the night they turned on the lights at Wrigley Field. That was more of an event than a baseball game."

The Orioles have to hope that's where the similarities end.

Sutcliffe was the starter the night they threw the switch in Chicago, but that game was rained out after four innings. Sutcliffe doesn't want anything to rain on the first regular-season game at the new ballpark, so he already is focusing on his Monday matchup with Cleveland right-hander Charles Nagy.

"I don't get nervous, but I do get excited," he said. "I really appreciate this one a lot more than the others [Opening Day starts]. I think that as you get older, each one means a little more to you.

"I look around and a lot of guys my age are getting released. On Opening Day, I'm going to see two managers and some coaches that I played with. It's a tremendous blessing from the Lord that I'm still able to play this game."

He will look into the Orioles dugout and see manager John Oates and first-base coach Davey Lopes, both of whom were teammates with the Los Angeles Dodgers when Sutcliffe broke into the major leagues. He will look into the Indians dugout and see manager Mike Hargrove, a teammate during his two-plus seasons in Cleveland. But the sentiment will stop at the first pitch.

"Once it starts, it should be like any other game," Sutcliffe said. "If you don't approach it like that, you're making a mistake. When I retire and look back, it will be a tremendous memory, but I've got to concentrate on the game."

If he failed to do that during the final stages of yesterday's performance, it was still a significant afternoon. He broke the 100-pitch barrier without any noticeable loss of velocity, even if he had a rough final inning (three runs). He threw 113 pitches without any apparent problem.

This is the same guy who missed most of the 1990 and '91 seasons with a shoulder injury, so his endurance is very much an issue as he prepares to open the season in the Orioles rotation.

"It was an important plateau," he said. "I went that far a couple of times in September, but it was important for this spring. Nobody likes to get hit, but the only thing Johnny wanted to see was 110 pitches today. The first 90 were real good. The last 15 or 20 were not so good. But we got our work in.

"Today was the final step. I wanted to turn up the velocity. I got hurt with my fastball up in the strike zone, but I wasn't as concerned with where it was going as with what was there."

Sutcliffe closed out the spring with a 1-2 record and a 3.60 ERA. His numbers weren't spectacular, but the club was more interested in seeing him healthy than in getting results.

"Overall, it has been a real good spring," he said. "Two bad innings out of 25. That's not too bad."

Orioles today

Exhibition opponent: Philadelphia Phillies

Site: Clearwater, Fla.

Time: 1:05 p.m.

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

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