NEW YORK -- The Orioles pitching situation for the upcoming four-game series against the Boston Red Sox remains clouded, but one thing is becoming clear.
Right-hander Storm Davis will be returning to the bullpen, where his injured left foot has responded to a more regular and less demanding pitching schedule.
Manager Johnny Oates still lists Davis as a possibility to pitch the second game of tomorrow's day/night doubleheader at Fenway Park, but Davis conceded yesterday that he probably would be better off in the Orioles bullpen.
"I guess I can say it, I'd rather be a reliever," Davis said yesterday. "Either way is fine, but if I had my druthers, I'd rather be a reliever."
But either way really isn't fine. It is no coincidence that Davis has re-aggravated the arch problem that has hampered him since his first start of spring training. It is a chronic problem he has learned to pitch with, but the pain apparently becomes more pronounced when he throws a lot of pitches.
"I can throw a certain number of pitches, and then I have to start altering my delivery to compensate," he said. "I feel more comfortable being a reliever, because I'm going to be limited to a certain number of throws."
Davis said he will remain in the rotation without complaint if that's what Oates needs him to do, but it seems unlikely that he will be asked to do something he may not be physically ready to do.
"I talked a lot to Dennis Eckersley about making the transition to the bullpen," he said. "Mentally, I've made that transition. If my foot was fine, I'd have no problem with [starting] at all, but that [relieving] is what I'd rather do."
This leaves the Orioles with difficult decisions to make. Oates needs two pitchers to fill the rotation this weekend. He would have needed a spot starter on Saturday even if Davis was available to pitch tomorrow.
Who will pitch? Oates isn't ready to say, but he left a big hint before last night's game.
"It'll depend on how the next two games go," he said.
That means that it would depend on how rested certain members of the bullpen will be. That probably means that Alan Mills will change places with Davis if he is rested enough to pitch five innings.
Oates has made it clear that he's satisfied with Mills in the bullpen, but some situations sometimes call for difficult decisions. The Orioles did not want to call up Arthur Rhodes this season, but the move has helped keep the club in contention in the American League East.
Mills has been one of the most effective pitchers on the club. He is conditioned for longer work, so he is the obvious choice if the first selection comes out of the bullpen.
Someone else may have to be brought in from outside the 25-man roster to fill the rotation, but it is unclear who. The opening comes at an interesting time, because the deadline for making a trade without waivers is Friday at midnight.
If the club does not make a deal, then club officials must decide between right-hander Bob Milacki, who has pitched reasonably well for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, or some other minor-league prospect.
The last time there was a question about Davis' ability to start, the tentative replacement was Rochester right-hander Richie Lewis, but he was sent down when Davis came off the disabled list July 20.
The club has one other option, bringing back pitcher Ben McDonald on three days' rest, but that seems unlikely after McDonald threw 129 pitches in eight innings Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.
Oates seems more likely to send out a reserve outfielder for 10 days and go with an 11-man pitching staff than overwork his staff.