Orioles shift into 2nd-half drive even before break Changes in lineup, strategy are mapped out

July 14, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

Before leaving for a two-day vacation at his Virginia home, manager Johnny Oates was asked if the Orioles planned any strategy sessions during the All-Star break.

"We've already had them," said Oates. "You've got to plan ahead for these things. You can't wait until it's time to do something.

"We had some meetings last week to talk about what we had to do [to improve during the second half]," said Oates, referring to a meeting that also involved general manager Roland Hemond and assistants Frank Robinson and Doug Melvin.

For the Orioles, the changes began before the All-Star break, and there will be more in the days immediately ahead. After playing most of the first half with basically a set roster, the Orioles realized they couldn't go the rest of the way playing a pat hand.

The addition of Pat Clements, though hardly a blockbuster move, was a tacit admission that left-handed reliever Jim Poole most likely won't fit into the picture until September. And by designating Jose Mesa for assignment, the Orioles were admitting they didn't think the right-hander could help them.

If a deal isn't made for Mesa (the club has until Saturday), he will be lost on waivers, most likely to either the Seattle Mariners or Cleveland Indians.

Oates had vowed during the spring that Arthur Rhodes would be left at Triple-A Rochester for the entire season. But that was before the Orioles established themselves as contenders in the American League East, where the Toronto Blue Jays have the most talent, but -- as presently constituted -- do not appear dominant enough to control the division.

Rhodes is now in the Orioles' rotation, and he will have to pitch his way out.

Since Mike Mussina and Rick Sutcliffe have been the only consistent starters, Oates decided that the fourth and fifth spots had to be dramatically improved if the Orioles were to stay in the race. Storm Davis was brought out of the bullpen to fill one vacancy (Mesa's) and Rhodes has first call on the second (Bob Milacki's).

Before Davis can be reactivated -- he's on the disabled list with a groin injury, but is expected to take his next turn Monday in Chicago -- the Orioles will have to drop someone from their roster. There is a possibility Rhodes could be returned to Rochester, but that seems remote.

There is also the possibility of a trade opening up a spot between now and the weekend. If that doesn't happen, Oates will have to decide between an 11-man pitching staff, which he used last year, or a full complement of position players.

The most immediate concern is the condition of Gregg Olson. The relief ace strained a muscle in his side last Wednesday and isn't scheduled to throw until Thursday, when the Orioles open a four-game series in Texas.

Until they know whether Olson is 100 percent, the Orioles have to be concerned about their entire pitching staff. Eight of their next 11 games are against the Rangers, one of the league's most potent offensive teams, making Olson's availability even more significant.

The Orioles play 13 of their next 17 games on the road, a strenuous stretch that could determine whether they can hang in the race for the duration.

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