Storm Davis came in from the bullpen last night and found out right then and there that he would not be going back.
Right-hander Bob Milacki had just self-destructed again. The Milwaukee Brewers were well on their way to a 5-3 victory over the Orioles. Manager Johnny Oates was in no mood to be either coy or conservative when he went to the mound to change pitchers in the fourth inning.
"I told Storm, 'I don't know if you've ever been told this on the mound before, but you're in the starting rotation starting right now,' " Oates said.
Davis took the ball and gave up just four hits over the final 5 1/3 innings at Camden Yards in preparation for his return to the Orioles rotation on Saturday in Minnesota. He will take Milacki's place as the club's No. 4 starter, but there has been no announcement on who will fill the spot starter role a week from today.
That job has belonged to Jose Mesa, but Oates said he will decide during the next few days whether to keep Mesa in that role or give it to Milacki or another pitcher. The only
thing that is certain is that Davis is in the rotation until he pitches his way out of it.
"I had pretty good idea this afternoon that Storm would make Saturday's start regardless of what Bobby did," said Oates, who met during the day with his coaching staff to discuss a growing pitching crisis. "I think he deserves it."
Davis, who has not made a start in an Orioles uniform since 1986, had no idea he would be handed more than just the ball when he entered the game. He was projected as a starter after an off-season deal brought him back to the Orioles, but he had become comfortable in his middle-relief role. There had been rumors of a pitching shake-up, but he said the in-game announcement caught him by surprise.
"That was a shock," he said. "That was the last thing I expected to hear. I was walking to the mound thinking about who I was going to face and who might be on deck. I've been greeted a lot of different ways, but that was one of the most different."
Milacki apparently could have assured himself of the spot-starter role with a decent performance last night. He got off to a solid start, but the game unraveled during a three-run fourth inning in which he allowed four hits and a walk.
"I pitched myself out of it," he said afterward. "It's not like Johnny didn't give me an ample opportunity to stay in there. I haven't been pitching well. I knew there would be some changes made sooner or later."
This one came sooner because the Orioles are in their first real pitching slump of the season. The starting rotation is a combined in the past 16 games. The loss last night was the fourth in the past five games, and it dropped the club two games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays in the tight American League East race.
"I can see their point," Milacki said. "We're in a pennant race. You can't just keep going out there and giving up three or four runs in the first few innings. Maybe a change will help us."
Every start had become critical for the two pitchers who inhabit the lower end of the Orioles rotation. Mesa did not fare well on Sunday and left the distinct impression that he finally had worn out his welcome. Milacki came into last night's game with a winning record, but his other numbers are -- in some cases -- worse than those of his struggling teammate.
Oates said before the game that Milacki could afford to take "nothing for granted," even though his three-year track record appeared to make him a safer bet to remain in the rotation after the pitching staff was reorganized.
Now, that doesn't seem like such a safe bet. He has given up 18 earned runs in 15 2/3 innings (10.34 ERA) during his past four starts. Mesa has given up 13 earned runs over 22 innings in his past four starts (5.32).
The Brewers scored in the third inning on a two-out single by Scott Fletcher and a bloop triple by leadoff man Pat Listach. There wasn't much Milacki could do about that. But the fourth inning featured hits by four of the first five batters he faced.
Paul Molitor started the rally with a single to left, and B. J. Surhoff followed with an opposite-field double before Robin Yount brought home a run with a line drive off the right-field scoreboard. Surhoff could not score from second on the play, but he would come home on a nubber to second by Franklin Stubbs.
Milacki also gave up a run-scoring double to Dante Bichette before pushing Oates to the limit of his patience with a two-out walk to Fletcher -- the No. 9 hitter in the Milwaukee lineup.
Stubbs would drive in two runs without the benefit of a base hit. He also brought home an insurance run with a safety squeeze bunt in the eighth inning. It was the only time the Brewers touched Davis, who dropped his ERA to 3.22 with another strong middle-relief performance.