Only after rout do Mesa, Flanagan find an out

June 29, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

It won't show up that way in a box score, but Orioles pitchers Jose Mesa and Mike Flanagan can credit Tim Leary for a save in yesterday's 9-2 drubbing by Kansas City. Or, to be more precise, after the disappointing defeat at Oriole Park.

If it hadn't been for Leary, and the decision by American League president Bobby Brown to deny the Orioles' protest of last Sunday's scuffball game with his Yankees, Orioles manager Johnny Oates undoubtedly would have had more to say about the ineffectiveness of his two pitchers yesterday.

Unfortunately, while questions about the protest will fade, Mesa and Flanagan, who were lit up by a Royals attack that pounded out 19 hits -- a season's high for both Kansas City hitting and Baltimore pitching -- apparently will be the source of a few more rounds of queries.

Afterward, Oates simply said, "Other than [Alan] Mills and [Todd] Frohwirth, we didn't pitch very well," which leads back to Mesa and Flanagan.

For Mesa (3-8), who has won just five times in his last 28 starts, the day was a continuation of his pattern of inconsistency.

In two of his last four starts, Mesa has looked pretty good. He retired 21 of his first 22 batters on June 9 against Boston and last Tuesday in a 7-1 win at Milwaukee he allowed three hits and one run in five innings.

In his other two recent starts, Mesa has been pounded. On June 14 in Detroit, Mesa, after being staked to a 4-1 lead, gave up five runs and eight hits in a 7-4 loss.

Then there was yesterday. The Royals, whom Mesa defeated in mid-April, roughed up the 26-year-old righthander for five runs and nine hits in four innings before Oates mercifully lifted him to a cascade of boos at Oriole Park.

Although many are calling for Mesa to be dropped from the rotation -- and perhaps from the club -- Oates and pitching coach Dick Bosman continue to be intrigued by his array of pitches. They also point out that Mesa, as the fifth starter, hasn't been given consistent turns to develop a rhythm.

"Go around the league and find out how many guys are doing better as a fifth starter," said Oates. "I'm choosing him until something better comes along."

That, of course, raises the other problem -- what or who would be better?

There are clearly options available to Oates, either through trade (San Diego's Bruce Hurst), minor-league call-ups (Rochester's Richie Lewis or Arthur Rhodes), or bullpen promotions (Mills or even Flanagan), but would they be any more effective?

"You just can't go to a tree in the back yard and pick pitchers off a tree," said Oates. "Everybody seems to think the easiest thing to do is change personnel. It's not always the answer. Sometimes, you have to be patient."

Oates said he will decide later this week whether to bring Mesa back on his next scheduled turn Saturday afternoon at Minnesota, or hold him out eight days until next Tuesday at home against Chicago. The latter scenario would mean using Bob Milacki, who will start tonight's series opener here against Milwaukee, on four days' rest against the Twins.

Flanagan's troubles have been as puzzling as Mesa's. The 40-year-old lefthander does not appear to have suffered a drop in velocity and has a sharp bite on his curve.

But in his last six appearances, Flanagan has allowed 21 of 25 batters he has faced to reach base with an earned run average during that string of 97.50 (13 earned runs in just 1 2/3 innings of work).

Yesterday, Flanagan, who is usually brought in to face tough lefties, gave up consecutive ninth-inning singles to lefthanded hitters Wally Joyner, George Brett and Jim Eisenreich. When former Oriole Bob Melvin followed Eisenreich's hit with one of his own, Oates quickly yanked Flanagan for Frohwirth.

"We need to get Mike some work. He's OK," said Oates.

"I saw good stuff from Mike," said Bosman. "There were just a couple of ground balls that got through. Those balls could easily have been hit at someone. I didn't see any big rockets."

To be fair, there weren't any big rockets coming from Orioles batters, either. They stranded 11 runners, and Sam Horn's pinch-hit, two-run double in the sixth was the only run-scoring hit of the day.

Oates said the Orioles have been "treading water for quite a while." Dropping nine of their last 15, they are lucky that Toronto has not run off and hidden from the rest of the division. But they will have to quit treading soon and start moving forward. What roles Mesa and Flanagan will play are still to be decided.

Just so long as Bobby Brown isn't making the decisions.

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