Orioles pitchers doing more with less

September 17, 1992|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

It is two hours before the game and the Orioles starting pitcher is in the clubhouse, alone with his thoughts while his teammates take batting practice.

The team is not hitting well and the pitcher realizes he may have to throw a shutout that night to help the club continue its run at the first-place Toronto Blue Jays.

But the idea is not something that can be dwelt upon.

"You lie if you say that it [the team's hitting slump] is not in the back of your mind," said Ben McDonald. "You do think about it, but you can't control it.

"In talking to the veteran guys, I learned early that all you can do is go out and pitch your best ballgame."

The Orioles certainly qualify as a slumping team. Including three runs last night, they have scored eight runs in their past 50 innings, batted .239 in the past 31 games and had only three multi-run innings in their past 93.

That can apply pressure to a pitching staff, particularly a starting rotation, if the players allow.

But pitching coach Dick Bosman said the approach should be unchanged during fallow hitting spells.

"When you go through these periods, the only attitude you can take is you have to pitch better or you lose," he said. "We've talked about this as a group, but it is not something to bemoan."

Manager Johnny Oates subscribes to the cyclical theory -- that ++ one facet has to carry the other at times during a long season.

"Sometimes the offense picks up the pitching and vice versa," he said. "Sometimes, you have to pitch a shutout to win and sometimes you can give up six and win.

"I'm sure certain guys are bothered when the team isn't hitting behind them, but nobody on this club has to be anything but good and loose. We've got something to win, and nothing to lose."

Mike Flanagan, who has started scores of pressurized games in his long career, believes that, regardless of how his teammates are hitting, a pitcher occasionally knows he'll have to be very good.

"Even against lesser teams, a lot of it is more about who you're matching up with," he said. "If you draw [Dave] Fleming with Seattle or [Charles] Nagy with Cleveland, you know there probably won't be a lot of runs."

Flanagan added that it is discouraging when "you catch three or four in a row with low-scoring support and somebody else on the staff is getting six runs all the time."

Rick Sutcliffe, the acknowledged leader of the staff, said, "When you're in the National League, you can do a little about it because you hit. But you don't control anything with the hitting here.

"Still, there is nothing written that we can't shut people out like [Milwaukee's Jamie] Navarro did to us. You can do things to be better."

Sutcliffe places serious stock in the necessity to pitch well in the first several innings "to give the manager a chance to do his thing, to be more creative.

"If you put a lot of zeros up there early, Johnny can make a lot of moves. But, for me, I always approach each game like it's Opening Day or a playoff game."

McDonald agreed that frustration can set in if "you have four or five good starts in a row with nothing to show for it. You just have to hope you're out there when the explosion comes.

"The important thing is to establish your stuff quickly, so you don't start thinking, 'if I give up three, the game's over.' That's just the way it is sometimes.

"Your job is to forget about the hitting, forget about the score and hold them down."

Bosman wants his staff to persevere and stay the course.

"In any start, you go out there thinking, 'I'm going to pitch a no-hitter or a shutout,' " he said. "Then, if you give up a hit, you think one-hitter. That's the nature of the game -- constant adjustment."

tTC

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