Sutcliffe's dog days may bring Oates' leash

July 31, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Rick Sutcliffe hasn't missed a turn since Opening Day, and even managed to squeeze in an extra appearance during an emergency.

He has started more games (24) than any pitcher in the major leagues. He has lasted at least into the seventh inning 18 times.

He has pitched more innings (162) at this point in the season than any Orioles pitcher in the past eight years. He has as many wins as last year's club leader, Bob Milacki, who led the staff with 10. His five complete games are more than the club has had in a season since Jeff Ballard had as many in 1988.

But, there is a flip side to this report. Sutcliffe has lost five straight decisions, is winless this month (six starts), 1-7 in his last 10 outings.

And he is 36 years old, with a re-treaded shoulder.

Which begs a question. How does the last number relate to all of the others?

"I'm not concerned about him, but we may be at the point where we have to monitor his number of pitches, maybe skip a start," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. "You can't forget about the point he's at in his career."

This was after the Orioles and Sutcliffe lost to the New York Yankees, 6-3, yesterday. Sutcliffe (10-11) was charged with all of the Yankees runs in the 4 1/3 innings he worked as the Orioles fell four games behind the Toronto Blue Jays and just one in front of the third-place Milwaukee Brewers.

It may have been Sutcliffe's least impressive outing of the year, raising the question of a possible early "burnout."

There's no doubt that Sutcliffe has done everything the Orioles had hoped he could do by this stage of the season. The unanswered question is whether he can give the Orioles what they need to remain competitive the rest of the way.

While admitting that he had bad vibes about Sutcliffe from the start of yesterday's game and that he may have to watch him a little closer, Oates reiterated his faith in the veteran right-hander. For himself, Sutcliffe expressed confidence that he can bounce back.

" 'Sut' is OK, he'll be fine," said Oates. "He hasn't pitched as great as he did earlier, we haven't seen the same velocity lately, but he's been through these things before."

The difference is, Sutcliffe hasn't been through this kind of stretch since returning from shoulder surgery two years ago. "Without a doubt this has been the worst month of my baseball career," he said.

"We're at a point now where every game is important. I want to be part of it. I want to be out there helping this team win.

"I went though stretches like this when I was 26," said Sutcliffe. "It's nothing that a win won't cure. I've always been the kind of pitcher who does things in streaks -- I'll win three or four in a row, or lose three or four in a row.

"I've just got to relax and get my breaking stuff over the plate. I can't remember the last time I got somebody out with my changeup. My last two times out [and three of the last four] have been against good fastball-hitting teams [Texas and New York] and I have to be able to get all of my pitches over the plate in order to be effective against them.

"I've just got to work hard and shut it [his slump] down before it gets worse," said Sutcliffe.

Yesterday was his 400th major-league game -- and his sixth straight unsuccessful attempt at win No. 150. But Sutcliffe said those are just numbers -- unimportant numbers at this stage of his career.

"That's not on my mind," he insisted. "I don't go into a game thinking about my 150th win."

Sutcliffe does not share any concern over the possibility that the first half of the season has taken its toll. He insists there is nothing wrong with him that a win wouldn't cure.

And Oates says that you have to evaluate Sutcliffe by looking at the whole picture, not just one piece of the puzzle. "Back in spring training, what did we say we wanted from him?" asked the manager.

"We were looking for 10-15 wins, 200-plus innings, for him to keep us in games so we'd have a chance to win -- and leadership," said Oates. "He's already got 10 wins, he's pitched almost as many innings as anybody on our staff all of last year, and he's certainly given us leadership."

In the process, Sutcliffe helped the Orioles jump-start this season. Now he wants to help them go to the next level.

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