Orioles delivering a new pitch

April 20, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

Even after yesterday's 3-2 win over Detroit, which lowered the Orioles' earned run average to the best mark in the American League, it would be wise to remember that:

A. This team hasn't been west of Lake Ontario yet.

B. The Orioles have been beating up on Cleveland and Detroit, no one's idea of the 1927 Yankees reincarnated, and at home, no less.

C. Cal Ripken doesn't have a home run and Glenn Davis hasn't gotten his uniform dirty yet.

Still, it would seem that after two weeks, the biggest problems facing Orioles manager John Oates are getting his relief pitchers into the game, especially at home, and keeping expectations to a minimum.

"It's early yet," Oates said yesterday. "Come back after 100 ballgames and then we'll talk. We'll just keep pluggin' along."

Things may change before it's all over in October, but the early reading on this edition of the Orioles is that they will be different than the last two seasons for three important reasons.

A. Starting pitching.

B. Starting pitching.

C. Starting pitching at home.

You'll recall that last season, the Orioles were out of most games before the seats at Memorial Stadium -- or any other stadium, for that matter -- were warm. They fell behind by at least three runs before the fourth inning 43 times last year.

In addition, their team ERA at home was a whopping 4.33, second worst in the major leagues to Detroit's 4.56.

But as they have moved into their brand new playpen at Camden Yards, something magical has happened to their pitching stat line.

The numbers have dropped drastically. For instance, through six home dates, the Orioles have given up just seven runs (six earned) while compiling a 1.00 ERA.

That has lowered the team's overall ERA to 2.82, the lowest in the American League, just ahead of Boston's 2.88. This comes just a few months after last year's Orioles copped baseball's highest team ERA of 4.59, the second highest in team history.

What has happened?

"We have three different pitchers here than we did last year," said Bob Milacki, who pitched eight effective innings yesterday, giving up two solo home runs and four hits overall.

"Mike Mussina is one, Ben [McDonald, tonight's starter] is another and he's healthy and then there's Rick [Sutcliffe]. He's thrown two shutouts and he's become a leader of the staff."

Of the four Orioles starters who have pitched here, only Milacki has had a poor home outing, the first Camden Yards night game in which he was touched for three first-inning runs, then settled down for 5 1/3 decent innings.

McDonald pitched a nine-inning masterpiece against Cleveland the next night, allowing just two hits and striking out nine, with one walk. Mussina, in his Oriole Park debut Saturday, pitched eight solid, if unspectacular innings, scattering a run and seven singles.

And, of course, there's Sutcliffe, who has yet to allow a run at the new ballpark in two sterling starts, where he has given up 10 hits, struck out 10 and walked three.

Dick Bosman, the new pitching coach, says some of the team's good pitching fortune can be attributed to basic things, like the thick texture of the Camden Yards infield, which slows down hard-hit balls, and the thick air of early-season games, which keeps some well-hit fly balls in the ballpark.

Then, too, says Bosman, there's the Orioles' defense, especially in the outfield, where Mike Devereaux and Brady Anderson have used the spacious accommodations and their speed to track down numerous balls.

But, then again, it just could be something basic, like that the Orioles are pitching better.

"There are still some areas that we have to work on, but basically, these guys are getting ahead of the hitters in the count and pitching with confidence," said Bosman.

As Milacki tells it, a good deal of that confidence comes from Bosman himself.

"He's done a lot for me," said Milacki. "He tells you those little things that keep you from getting losses. My mechanics were so off last season. I couldn't find the zone. But I've started hitting my spot and Bos has speeded up the pace for me. He told me to be a little more aggressive with hitters and not to work so slowly."

The starters have pitched so well so far that Oates and Bosman are left with the pleasant problem of trying to find innings for the relievers. Neither claim to be concerned as of yet, especially with two relievers, lefty Jim Poole and righthander Mark Williamson, on the disabled list.

But it has become a challenge. Olson is the only reliever to work in the Detroit series, and although his appearance in yesterday's game netted him his second save of the year, Oates got him in for an inning in Saturday's 6-1 win because he hadn't worked since last Monday's 8-6 win over Boston.

Mike Flanagan and Storm Davis have not pitched since last Wednesday, and Todd Frohwirth, whom Oates said he wanted to get some work for before yesterday's game, has been sitting on the shelf since last Monday.

Oates said Frohwirth would have come in yesterday to face Cecil Fielder in the eighth inning when the Tigers got a runner on with one out, except that Alan Trammell grounded into a double play to end the inning.

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