Lefferts excited to be back in race Left-hander known as a real competitor

September 02, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

OAKLAND, Calif. -- For those who know him and those who have only heard about him, one word seems to best describe Craig Lefferts, the left-hander obtained by the Orioles from the San Diego Padres late Monday night.

Competitive.

"I would say that's a pretty accurate description. He's very competitive," said Pat Clements, a left-handed reliever acquired earlier from the Padres and the person who knows Lefferts better than anybody else in the Orioles organization.

"He has good command of three or four pitches, his screwball is a great pitch for him and his breaking pitches make his fastball look even better. He definitely should help us."

Lefferts arrived only minutes before last night's game. He said leaving San Diego was difficult, that he knew very little about his new teammates or the American League, but said he was excited about being in a pennant race.

"I spent a long time in San Diego, and the team they have there is very close," Lefferts said before joining the Orioles in the dugout. "I had a lot of guys around me [when he found out about the trade], so it was very emotional.

"I went back to the hotel and tried to figure out something about the American League. I don't know anything about the American League, but I found myself getting more and more excited.

"I'm excited to be in a pennant race -- I've been in a few before," said Lefferts, who pitched in the postseason with the 1984 Padres and 1987 and 1989 San Francisco Giants. "There's nothing I'd rather do than help Baltimore win.

"I don't know any of the American League clubs or parks, so there's going to be a lot of baseball things I haven't experienced."

Orioles manager Johnny Oates would not reveal his immediate plans for the newest member of his pitching staff until after the two have met. He said only that either Lefferts or Bob Milacki, last night's starter against the Oakland Athletics, would pitch the final game of this road trip in California on Sunday afternoon.

"I can't say how we're going to use him until after I talk with him," said Oates. "Then Bos [pitching coach Dick Bosman] and I will sit down with him and try to figure out how he can best help our club.

"It's the same way we handled things with Storm Davis and Alan Mills," said Oates. "You have guys with the ability to either start or relieve, I like to let them have some input."

Oates spoke to Lefferts briefly by phone yesterday and was impressed that he planned to join the club immediately. "Being from San Diego, I think his immediate reaction [to the trade] was disappointment, which is only natural," Oates said.

"Unless a player has a real animosity toward the team or the city, which obviously wasn't the case here, it's normal to be disappointed. But in talking to him, he sounded excited and was anxious to join us.

"I told him it would be OK for him to join us Friday [in Anaheim], but he said tomorrow [today] was his day to throw, and he wanted to throw with us," Oates said. "He won't be here [Oakland] more than 24 hours, then he's going to go back to San Diego for the off day and rejoin us on Friday."

Lefferts said he was unaware the Orioles were one of the teams interested in him, but he had "heard nothing but good things about Baltimore" from former teammates. "The [Terry] Kennedys, [Fred] Lynns and [Joe] Prices [all ex-Orioles who played with the Padres] are good friends and they all have said nice things about Baltimore.

"The only thing I had heard [about a possible trade] was Oakland," said Lefferts. "But from what I heard from [San Diego general manager] Joe McIlvaine that wasn't going to happen. I'm sure it was a tough decision for him because he had to decide if we were in a pennant race or not.

"I felt we were still in the race because we had seven games left with Atlanta and six with Cincinnati. I thought if we could get within five games we'd have a legitimate chance."

Until this year, Lefferts, 34, had been a reliever, most recently a closer. He made the adjustment to starting this season after the Padres obtained Randy Myers, also a left-hander. "I think he was enjoying it," said Clements, who watched the transformation.

"Of course, any time you're having success, you're going to enjoy it more. I think the fact that he started right from the beginning of spring training made it a lot easier on him," said Clements. "He pitched very well while I was there."

Storm Davis is another former teammate of Lefferts', though the two were together only briefly in 1988. "It's a good move for us," said Davis. "He is a good person, a real good pitcher and a tough competitor who throws strikes."

Although he made no secret earlier that he was interested in obtaining a veteran starter for the final month, Oates obviously likes the versatility that Lefferts might provide. "The report on him is that he's competitive, has an average fastball, a real good screwball, uses different speeds with his curve and is aggressive," said Oates.

"He likes to take the ball, doesn't beat himself, has a real good [pickoff] move and holds runners close -- the kind of guy you'd like to have on your team."

Oates (as a coach) and Rick Sutcliffe were with the Cubs in the 1984 National League playoffs, when Lefferts was the winner in the last two games as the Padres erased a two-game deficit to win the five-game series.

"I honestly don't know him very well," said Sutcliffe, "but I remember that he had a big impact on that series [three scoreless appearances]."

Lefferts, who reportedly also attracted interest from the Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal Expos, was obtained 15 minutes before Monday's midnight trading deadline. He was informed of the deal shortly after losing a 6-2 game to the Cardinals in St. Louis, dropping his record to 13-9 in 29 starts for the Padres.

The Orioles obtained Lefferts in exchange for Double-A pitcher Erik Schullstrom and a player to be named.

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