Storm Davis, supporting cast have different look for this performance

July 01, 1992|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

The first time Storm Davis passed this way, he was a 20-year-old phenom, his manager was the gruff-speaking Earl Weaver and the Orioles were an American League power.

That was four teams, 10 years and 105 victories ago.

A decade after he first broke into the Orioles' starting rotation -- hailed as the reincarnation of Jim Palmer -- Davis is back for a second run as a starting pitcher in Baltimore.

Except for the fact Davis will wear the Orioles uniform, there are few similarities to 1982. No longer is he being asked to fill Palmer's shoes. Now the Orioles are asking him simply to fill Bob Milacki's or Jose Mesa's.

It is Milacki's No. 4 spot in the rotation that Davis will take in Minnesota on Saturday, when he makes a belated 122nd start as an Oriole.

The Orioles' battered pitching staff was in mid-shuffle yesterday as manager Johnny Oates contemplated further changes. Although Davis will replace Milacki in the rotation, it's unclear who will be the fifth starter. It could be Milacki or Mesa, or someone else from the bullpen. Or Richie Lewis could be called up from the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings to take Mesa's place in a scheduled Tuesday start against the Chicago White Sox.

For now, Oates isn't saying how he'll play his hand.

"Nothing has been decided," he said before last night's game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Oates conceded that Mesa, and perhaps Milacki, would be available for bullpen duty today when the Orioles conclude the series with the Brewers.

The possibility that Mesa may wind up pitching in relief is noteworthy, though. Previously, the Orioles wanted to protect Mesa's surgically repaired right elbow from the wear and tear of bullpen life. Now, they are prepared to face the risk.

"If he's the guy who comes out of the rotation, he may have no choice," Oates said. "He may have to go to the bullpen and find out if he can do it."

If Oates uses either Mesa or Milacki in relief before Tuesday, it would influence the decision of who starts then.

Davis, meanwhile, has accepted his promotion stoically.

"I want to stress that I want to be part of the team, fill a role as a starter and help us win the division championship," he said. "I have no other goals.

"I've been in three World Series, and I'd like to get back to another one in this uniform."

Davis joined the Orioles in 1982 after four starts at Rochester. He went directly to the bullpen in Baltimore, and made 21 relief appearances. By the end of the year, he had pitched well enough to go into Weaver's rotation, and he finished with an 8-4 record with a 3.49 ERA.

The difference between Weaver and Oates is most obvious in volume. "Johnny is a lot quieter," Davis said. "He doesn't swear. But I got on Earl's good side. He didn't yell at me."

The difference between the Storm Davis of 1982 and the Storm Davis of 1992 is no less dramatic.

"When I was younger, I said, 'Don't compare me to Jim Palmer,' " he said. "Now, I couldn't care less.

"There's been a lot of water under the bridge in my career since then. I've faced a lot of adversity in my life. To me, this is another challenge."

Davis went to the San Diego Padres in 1987 in a trade that brought Mark Williamson and Terry Kennedy to Baltimore. He did not perform well for rookie manager Larry Bowa, and, by August, he had been traded again, this time to the Oakland Athletics.

Although he enjoyed his best big-league season with the A's in 1989, going 19-7 with a 4.36 ERA, he opted to sign with the Kansas City Royals as a free agent the following year. He was only 10-19 in two frustrating seasons with the Royals.

When the Orioles traded for him last December, it was with the intent of putting him into the starting rotation. When Oates moved him to the bullpen in spring training, Davis accepted the move without complaint. Oates at least had left the door ajar.

"When I was younger, I guess I wanted a definite role on the team," Davis said, "but not so much now.

"The only time I preferred to start was in Kansas City. I was embarrassed to make $2.2 million and be a mop-up guy."

In 27 relief appearances this season, Davis had a 3-2 record and a 3.22 ERA. He finished 14 games and gave up only two home runs in 50 1/3 innings. He says he enjoyed his time in the bullpen.

"I like going out there with Froh [Todd Frohwirth], Flanny [Mike Flanagan] and Alan [Mills]," he said. "I heard most of the Flanny stories before, but it was good sitting through them again.

"It's a more relaxed atmosphere out there. In the dugout, there's more stress."

Yesterday, Davis reiterated his position that he is ready and willing to fill whatever role Oates wants. "If tomorrow Johnny said he was making a trade and I was going back to the bullpen, it wouldn't flatten me," Davis said.

"The bottom line is that we win."

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