Orioles to see if Valenzuela can still pitch Left-hander signs Triple-A contract

February 28, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Fernando Valenzuela is attempting another comeback -- this time as the latest reclamation project of the Orioles.

Valenzuela, who inspired almost a decade of "Fernando Maniain Southern California while pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has agreed to come to camp as a non-roster player. He signed a Triple-A Rochester Red Wings contract and is expected to report tonight and work out for the first time tomorrow.

Yesterday's surprise announcement was the result of suggestion by assistant general manager Frank Robinson, a scouting report by Fred Uhlman Sr. and the persistence of player agent Dick Moss.

"Frank mentioned to me about 10 days ago that Fernando wasomeone we should give some consideration to," said Hemond. "We checked with Fred, who said 'he can pitch better than a lot of pitchers in the major leagues.'

"Then Dick [Moss] approached us. He knew we were looking foadditional pitching because we had talked to him about Scott Sanderson [another Moss client]," said Hemond.

Uhlman had seen Valenzuela pitch for Mexico during thCaribbean Series and filed a positive report. It was the only positive thing about that trip for Uhlman, whose comments about poor foot speed among Mexican players caused a furor for which and the club issued an apology.

Valenzuela pitched Mexico's first game in the Caribbean Seriesand his team beat the Dominican Republic, 3-2. However, he was not the pitcher of record, having left after 6 1/3 innings, trailing 2-0.

Ex-Orioles pitcher Dave Johnson was Valenzuela's opponent ithat game. "I thought he threw well," said Johnson, who pitched six shutout innings before leaving the game.

"You have to remember you're talking to a guy who had neveseen him before, so I didn't know what to expect," said Johnson.

"We didn't have the best hitting team, but he moved the balaround, kept it down and busted right-handed hitters inside. It looked to me like he was throwing good enough to get [big-league] hitters out."

Hemond's first reaction when approached by Moss was that hthought Valenzuela was the property of the Mazatlan team for which the left-hander pitched during the Caribbean Series. "When Dick assured me he was a free agent [and thus didn't have to be compensated for] we told him we had some interest.

"We then signed Fernando to a Rochester contract and have pre-arranged agreement [on salary] if and when he makes the club," said Hemond. "He [Valenzuela] expressed a desire to join the Orioles, and we are honored and pleased that he would want the opportunity to make our club. I've always admired him and would like to see him resume his career in Baltimore."

Manager Johnny Oates was guarded in his appraisal oValenzuela's chances of making the staff. "Who knows?" he said when asked what he expected. "We'll give him a chance and see what's there.

"From what I heard, when he was with the Angels he just didn'have any arm strength. Now he's had a chance to pitch some innings and maybe he's been able to get it back."

Valenzuela pitched 262 2/3 innings in Mexico last summer and thiwinter, but hasn't appeared in a major-league game since 1991.

That year he was 0-2 in a brief comeback attempt with thAngels. Dan O'Brien, vice president in charge of baseball operations for the Angels, said Valenzuela might have succeeded if he'd had a longer period of preparation after being released by the Dodgers March 28.

"The worst thing was that he and his people wanted to limit histay in the minor leagues to five games," said O'Brien. As it turned out, Valenzuela pitched 63 2/3 innings in 12 mi

nor-league games before the Angels called him up, where he was ineffective and released on July 5.

Fred Claire, general manager of the Dodgers, said Valenzuela'comeback attempt was "good for baseball and good for Fernando."

It was while with the Dodgers that Valenzuela made sensational major-league debut in 1980. He was called up on Sept. 10 and didn't allow an earned run in 17 2/3 innings of relief, compiling a 2-0 record.

The next year, which was shortened by a strike, he was 13-7with a 2.48 ERA. He became the first player to win the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award in the same season.

He won 19 games the next year, which was the first of siconsecutive seasons in which he logged more than 250 innings. In 1985, he set a major-league record for consecutive scoreless innings at the start of a season (41 1/3 ), and a year later had his best record, 21-11. He was 13-13 and pitched his only no-hitter in his last full season, 1990.

The Orioles have no illusions of seeing the prime-time Valenzueland realize he's a long shot to win the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation. But Hemond has always been one to give a successful player the benefit of another opportunity.

"One thing Bill Veeck [for whom Hemond worked with the Chicago White Sox] always said was that you can't be the Comeback Player of the Year if you don't get a chance -- and he was right," said Hemond.

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