Telford hopes to join select company in '93 Passed over in draft, he gets new chance

February 23, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

SARASOTA, Fla. -- If Anthony Telford has it figured right, the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies have given him the best opportunity of his life.

Once the brightest pitching prospect in the Orioles' organization, Telford has been the perennial long-shot candidate to make the staff each of the past two years. But both times he came up short and was dispatched to Triple-A Rochester, where he compiled a 24-16 record over two seasons.

Having not missed a start in three years (going 38-20 in that stretch in the minor leagues), Telford, 25, considered himself a prime candidate to be selected in the expansion draft that stocked the Florida and Colorado teams. He admits that he was disappointed when he wasn't among the 72 players dispersed to the Marlins and the Rockies.

"I watched the whole thing on television," Telford said here yesterday. "What does that tell you?

"Yes, I was disappointed that I wasn't taken. I thought if anybody did his homework, I'd get picked.

"I don't cause any problems, I've pitched over 600 innings the last three years (607 1/3 ) and I've had success at every level except the big leagues -- and I haven't really had the opportunity to pitch there on a regular basis," said Telford.

The right-hander used to throw his fastball at more than 90 mph. In his first 38 innings of professional ball (1987-88) he struck out 50 batters and walked 11, giving up 28 hits and four runs (an 0.95 ERA).

He was rated a better prospect than Pete Harnisch (an All-Star in 1991 with the Houston Astros) and was expected to get to Baltimore no later than 1990. But a freak fall resulted in surgery on his right shoulder, clouding his future and putting him on a long comeback journey that he hopes is in its final stage.

"A lot of things happened [after the injury] that made me a better person," said Telford. "It definitely gave me a different outlook on things."

The injury also made Telford readjust his game plan. Finesse replaced power, and even though he thinks he's regained most of his lost velocity, Telford realizes that speed is no longer his biggest asset.

Telford is one of seven candidates being given consideration for the fifth spot in the Orioles' starting rotation, and he doesn't believe he's one of the long shots.

"I came to camp with the idea that job was mine," said Telford. "I was disappointed I didn't get drafted, but I was glad in other ways. This organization has been good to me, I like all of the guys, and this is really where I want to stay.

"I'm real pleased with my chances -- especially because they [the Orioles] didn't go out and spend $4 million for somebody. It's not like I'm a sleeper [to win a job].

"I'm in the best shape I've ever been in my life," said Telford. "At the end of last year I was throwing the ball between 86 and 89 mph and I'm throwing better than that now."

Telford got help from Orioles pitching coach Dick Bosman during the off-season. The two are residents of the Tampa, Fla., area and worked out often this winter.

Bosman suggested a few mechanical changes that give Telford more of an overhand delivery. "He's on top of the ball more, it helps his breaking pitches and I think his velocity is actually a little better," said Bosman.

"I never saw him before he blew out [the shoulder injury in 1988]," said Bosman, "but I would say that he's throwing harder now than at any time in the five years I've been in the organization."

Telford's work with Bosman has also led to the addition of another pitch -- the forkball.

"The new delivery gives me a little different look," said Telford. "And I'm anxious to throw the forkball to hitters and see how they react."

Although Telford is convinced that he has regained most of his velocity, Bosman doubts that is the case. "What usually happens after surgery is that some guys have delusions that they are throwing as hard as they used to," said Bosman. "But more often than not, that's not the case.

"That's not the most important thing in Anthony's case, anyhow. Just like everybody else, it will depend on movement, locations and change of speeds."

The question that remains is whether Telford can take the next step. Telford believes he can. "I think if I can get 25 starts, I can do the same thing I did at Rochester," he said.

"This is a good club, you can win some games with this team. I'm healthy and they know I can take a regular turn and pitch 200 innings," said Telford. "And if they need me to pitch relief, I can do that too."

Manager Johnny Oates has said that whoever wins the No. 5 starter's job will also have to be able to work out of the bullpen. That's one reason why he wants to take a long look at Mark Williamson, who has experience in both roles.

But this easily is the best opportunity Telford has had to start a season in the major leagues. He's reached a point in his career where there's little left to accomplish in the minor leagues and he has to prove he can move on to the next level.

Neither the Florida Marlins nor the Colorado Rockies believed he was ready to take that step. Telford hopes to prove them wrong.

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