Ben McDonald has avoided the kind of scrutiny that has become a way of life for teammates Bob Milacki and Jose Mesa, but he has struggled right along with them for the past month.
In his past five starts, he is 0-3 with a 6.97 ERA -- hardly the stuff of which dream seasons are made.
"The big innings are just killing all of us," said McDonald, who will take the mound today in the finale of the three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers. "You've got to be able to stay away from the three- and four-run inning. I haven't been able to do it, and Bobby hasn't been able to do it."
But McDonald is not in danger of losing his place in the starting rotation. He remains one of the most promising young pitchers in the major leagues, and he will get every opportunity to continue his development.
It looked as if he had turned the corner at the start of the season, when he jumped out to a 5-0 start, but the past month has been an education of another kind. He has not won since June 1, and he has taken a couple of solid beatings in the interim.
The fatigue factor cannot be discounted. McDonald has yet to pitch a full season at the major-league level. He made 21 starts last year and worked 126 1/3 innings. He made 15 starts and six relief appearances in 1990, combining to pitch 118 2/3 innings. This year, he has passed 100 innings, and the season is a week short of its halfway point.
"This is my first year to experience so many starts in a row," McDonald said. "Rick Sutcliffe told me during spring training, there willcome a time in the middle of the season when you are going to be tired and you're going to have to suck it up. That's the way it has been the last two weeks. It feels like spring training, when you get to that dead-arm stage."
Manager Johnny Oates doesn't know whether it is that simple. McDonald has shown flashes of brilliance during his month-long struggle, so there is no clear-cut explanation for his problems.
"Not being a pitcher, I don't know what it feels like to pitch 100 innings," Oates said. "All we can do is speculate. I think it's location. Mel Hall hurt him with a changeup over his head. Don Mattingly hit a 2-0 fastball. There hasn't been one pitch he's getting hurt on.
"I think experience is a big thing. The more he keeps going out there, the better he's going to get."
Brewers pitcher Bill Wegman has rejoined the team and will make his scheduled start against the Orioles today. Wegman left the team temporarily because of the death of his grandfather, and his status for today's game had been considered uncertain.
The Brewers have optioned Andy Allanson to the Triple-A Denver Zephyrs upon the completion of his injury rehabilitation assignment. That apparently means that they will commit to playing Australian import Dave Nilsson behind the plate.
Nilsson is the third native Australian to play in the major leagues. The others are San Diego Padres infielder Craig Shipley and a turn-of-the-century player named Joe Quinn.
Oates on the scuff
Oates remains hopeful that American League president Bobby Brown will take some action after he interviews suspected scuff-baller Tim Leary of the New York Yankees.
"I would hope that if he [Leary] can't explain his suspicious activity, maybe there will be something done," Oates said. "But he has ruled. He denied our protest. Chris Hoiles is out for six weeks. There's nothing more I can do."
The Orioles last night honored members of the Baltimore Baseball League, a new league made up of 480 fourth- and fifth-graders from the city. The league is sponsored by the Orioles, Major League Baseball, the Abell Foundation, the city of Baltimore and the Parks and People Foundation. Orioles first baseman Glenn Davis purchased tickets for all the young participants. . . . Just after last night's rain delay ended, swarms of moths fluttered above the field, especially around the stadium lights. The insect infestation lasted about one inning, though some moths were still flitting around players into the late innings.