Already this spring there have been tangible and intangible dividends to the Orioles' acquisition of veteran pitcher Rick Sutcliffe.
Tangible contribution: a 2-0, Opening Day victory over the Cleveland Indians on Monday.
Intangible contribution: a sense of leadership by example for the Orioles' young pitching staff.
For instance, when Bob Milacki opposes Cleveland left-hander Dave Otto in the first night game (7:35) at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Milacki, 27, will be trying to match Sutcliffe's Opening Day success.
What began as a spring training joke has become an early-season keynote. When spring training began, Sutcliffe said jokingly that he was pressured to duplicate strong performances by Milacki and Ben McDonald. Now, the shoe is on the other foot.
"He put a little pressure on us, the way he pitched Monday," Milacki said playfully. "It was payback time.
"There's a little competition on the staff. Everybody is being molded together. We're all saying, 'I'm going to do just as good as he did.' "
L Sutcliffe, 35, has helped Milacki with more than motivation.
"There are definitely things you pick up," Milacki said of Sutcliffe's five-hit outing. "He didn't throw too many breaking balls early. He found himself by throwing fastballs, and he changed speeds with his fastball. He does anything he can do to win. He never gives in."
Sutcliffe also has encouraged Milacki to throw his "batting practice" fastball as a change of pace pitch. "You have to have guts to throw a BP fastball," Milacki said. "I talked to Flanny [Mike Flanagan] about it last year. The second half of the season he was using his BP fastball effectively. I've talked to Rick about changing speeds with the fastball. When I first broke in, I'd throw as hard as I could."
Milacki is coming off a strong spring, when he went 3-1 with a 3.55 ERA in seven starts and 33 innings. Opposing batters hit .227 with three home runs.
"I think I'm right where I want to be," he said. "This year, I've been refining what I already had. If my mechanics are down, everything else will fall in place."
Milacki led the staff with 10 wins a year ago, when he started the season in Double-A. He was 2-1 against Cleveland last season and is 4-2 lifetime with a 2.63 ERA. Otto was 2-8 with a 4.23 ERA
a year ago, with one loss against the Orioles.
Sitting in the Orioles dugout on the first-base side, John Oates said he would have preferred to be on the third-base side for reasons of communication with third-base coach Cal Ripken Sr.
"It's always easier to manage out of the third-base dugout to communicate with the third-base coach," Oates said. "In Boston [where the visiting team is on the third-base side], we talk to each other, and I don't have to worry about hiding signs. But we were able to get the sign out on the squeeze bunt Monday, so it's no problem. There are some benefits to being on this side."
Among them, he said, was having the parking lot in a more accessible location. The reason the Orioles' dugout is on the right side is proximity to the team's offices in the B&O warehouse, Oates said.