Faltering rotation desperately needs helping (left) hand

Ken Rosenthal

July 08, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

Nothing like a whiff of nostalgia: The starter gets knocked out early, the relievers work to exhaustion, the manager races to a post-game meeting with the GM.

Ah, the familiar sights and sounds.

Midnight madness, Orioles style.

It's just a wacky guess, but manager Johnny Oates and general manager Roland Hemond probably didn't meet to discuss the G-7 summit after last night's 8-4 loss to Chicago.

Oates acknowledged before the game that the club is trying to acquire left-handed pitching. But right now, he'd probably settle for anyone who could give his bullpen a break.

"We've got to hash some things out," Oates said before meeting with Hemond. "We can't keep putting stuff off, putting stuff off. We're treading water right now."

Treading water?

Try going under.

The Orioles are 10-13 since reaching a season-high 15 games over .500 on June 12. Plus, they're now four games behind Toronto, the largest gap between the clubs since April 17.

The season just passed the mid-point, so the situation is not urgent. But it appears circumstances will force the Orioles to address the pitching needs they've ignored.

Any fool knows this club is short a left-handed starter and a second left-handed reliever. The Orioles can trade for one or both and try to remain in the race. Or, they can simply waste away.

At the moment, Oates is considering the addition of an 11th pitcher to strengthen his bullpen. Clearing a spot would be easy: Outfielder Chito Martinez has started only three of the past 27 games.

Mike Mussina, averaging 7 2/3 innings per start, is tonight's pitcher against Chicago, so a roster move might not be imminent. The bullpen, however, can't take much more.

Thanks to Bob Milacki, Mike Flanagan threw 53 pitches in a season-high three innings last night, and Jose Mesa threw 46 pitches in his first major-league relief appearance in 4 1/2 years.

Todd Frohwirth and Alan Mills got the night off, but only after combining for 15 2/3 innings the previous three days. Both should be available tonight. The question is, for how long?

Here's an even better question:

Whom would the Orioles promote?

Not left-hander Jim Poole, who took the loss as Rochester blew a 6-2 lead in the final inning of the second game of a doubleheader last night against Scranton-Wilkes Barre.

Not right-hander Richie Lewis, who worked 5 1/3 innings in his most recent start Monday. And not prized left-hander Arthur Rhodes, who needs to pitch, not mop up in relief.

As it stands, the Orioles have two effective starters (Mussina and Rick Sutcliffe), a third who is on a pace to shatter the club record for home runs allowed (Ben McDonald) and a fourth who just joined the rotation (Storm Davis).

Milacki, he of the 6.02 ERA, is winless in his past five starts. Last night might have been different, but he allowed four stolen bases in the first three innings, eliminating any margin for error.

The four steals led to three runs, so even though Milacki caught two horrendous breaks -- George Bell's two-out RBI single on a nasty 0-2 breaking ball in the first, and Mike Devereaux's inability to pick up a shallow two-out fly by Bell in the third -- he had no excuses.

It was unnecessary to issue Warren Newson a two-out walk in the third, inexcusable to allow Newson to record his first steal of the season. Milacki deserved what came next: The weak hit by Bell, and the two-run homer by Dan Pasqua that made it 5-1.

The White Sox attempted seven steals on the night, succeeding on the first five. It was the most attempts against the Orioles since Aug. 5, 1984, when Toronto went 7-for-7 against Floyd Rayford.

The catcher last night was Jeff Tackett, who can throw out anyone in the league given half a chance. But White Sox manager Gene Lamont said of Milacki, "We have how long he takes to get to the plate --and he's probably one of the slowest."

So, who's the fifth starter now?

A veteran like Los Angeles' Bob Ojeda would be nice, but given the choice, Oates would trade for a second left-handed reliever first. "It probably would be easier to find one," he said.

But Flanagan, with the assistance of pitching coach Dick Bosman, is finally straightening out, throwing 10-15 minutes every day as a substitute for the work he isn't getting in games.

Last season he pitched 98 1/3 innings; prior to last night, he was on a pace for 34 2/3 . The man turns 41 in December, but he isn't finished. He just needs to find his rhythm, regain his control.

Last night was a start, and once Flanagan completes the adjustment, the bullpen will be in excellent shape. The rotation, however, will still lack a left-handed pitcher, in a park tailored to left-handed hitters.

"I dislike mediocrity," Oates said.

Whenever the front office is ready. . . .

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