The '93 Sutcliffe: Bigger, stronger But pitcher's size is 1st weighty issue

February 20, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

SARASOTA, Fla. -- No sooner had the bats and balls been broken out for the first time than the Orioles were embroiled in their first "big" controversy of the spring.

Right-hander Rick Sutcliffe came into camp bigger and stronger than ever, or so he says. He is beaming about an off-season weight program that has added upper body strength and streamlined his physique.

Manager Johnny Oates agrees that Sutcliffe is bigger, but that's as far as he's willing to go.

"It's the same body," Oates said. "He's 10 pounds over, and he doesn't want anybody to notice. That's the same ugly body he has had for 47 years."

This is the way spring training is supposed to begin. The Orioles awoke to a beautiful, breezy Florida day and opened pitcher and catcher workouts without a care in the world. Sutcliffe is in charge of keeping everybody loose, and he got right to work -- with a little help from his deadpan manager.

All kidding aside, the weight program is no joke. Sutcliffe, 36, says that his waist is smaller, his chest is larger and his shoulder is sounder -- sounder than it has been since he had rotator cuff surgery in 1990 and missed most of two seasons. He says he hopes the extra strength will allow him to deliver a more consistent performance than he did on the way to a 16-15 record last year.

"I had some games that were just horrible last year," he said. "I just want to be more consistent. I think that will help us a lot. There were games when I threw the ball 88 mph last year and other games when I was throwing only 82. I wouldn't recommend it for a young guy, but I felt I needed more velocity.

"Hey, even if it doesn't help my pitching, it will come in handy if we get in a fight."

The Orioles say they would be more than satisfied with the kind of contribution Sutcliffe made in 1992. He was the undisputed leader of a promising pitching staff. He made 36 starts. He won 16 games. He pitched 237 1/3 innings. Oates said he would have settled for a lot less, so he isn't going to ask for more in '93.

"He did more than we hoped he would do," Oates said. "He exceeded my expectations, though probably not his. You can look back at what I was saying last spring. I was looking for 10-plus wins and 200-plus innings. Anything over that would be gravy. But in my opinion, the most important thing was not the 16 wins or the 200-plus innings. It was his leadership, something this club desperately needed."

Sutcliffe's leadership skills were apparent yesterday almost from first light. He was running laps at the spring training complex at 7:30 a.m. with second-year left-hander Arthur Rhodes at his side.

The young pitchers have come to depend on him for guidance and motivation. Perhaps that is why it was so important to Oates to bring him back for a second season in Baltimore. The contract negotiations progressed slowly until Oates called Sutcliffe and acted as a go-between with the Orioles front office.

"I know it doesn't sound like much, but Arthur wouldn't go to the mound last year without touching Sutcliffe [for luck]," Oates said. "There were a couple of times when he was back in the clubhouse and we were ready to take the field, and Arthur was looking for Rick so he could slap him with his glove on the way out there.

"What does that mean? It may not seem like much, but that's the kind of thing that keeps a team close together."

Sutcliffe said he had no intention of signing with any other team, though he complained last fall that his inability to work out a long-term contract was having a negative effect on his family life. He had hoped to sign a three-year deal and buy a house in Baltimore, which would have allowed him more time with his wife, Robin, and daughter, Shelby, but he did an about-face this winter and accepted another one-year deal.

"It was my choice to take it one year at a time," he said. "We had made a three-year proposal, but my wife and I were sitting on the couch one night, and we looked at each other and said, 'Three years is an awful long time.' I don't even know if I'm going to be playing three years from now."

The Sutcliffes laid out a tentative travel schedule for the first half of the season and found that the family would not be apart nearly as much this year as last.

"We actually had the '93 schedule before I re-signed," he said. "We'll be together more than half the time. I'd have retired before I would have gone through that again."

There were feelers from the Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland Indians and his hometown Kansas City Royals, but Sutcliffe apparently didn't like the feeling of a job half done. The Orioles made a strong run at the American League East title last year, but third place left him wanting to come back for an encore.

"We had a lot of fun last year," he said, "but I was kind of disappointed with the way things went. Maybe we weren't expected to be there, but when the first of the year rolled around and the highlight film came out, I was thinking, we were supposed to win that thing."

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