Williamson, Pennington pass another Orioles test Veteran struggles, but bounces back SPRING TRAINING

March 19, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- On the surface, it appeared Mark Williamson and Brad Pennington had a reversal of form here yesterday.

But to manager Johnny Oates, the two pitchers merely took another progressive step in yesterday's 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins.

Williamson, who could be in the midst of a career adjustment, was hit hard for the first time this spring, giving up three hits and two runs in the sixth inning. He had pitched nine scoreless innings in three previous appearances.

Pennington, trying to win the one job still available in the bullpen, rebounded from an erratic effort (an infield hit, two walks and 29 pitches in one inning) to preserve the win by retiring the last three hitters. He has yet to allow a run in 6 2/3 innings.

Neither Williamson nor Oates was concerned about the right-hander's rocky start yesterday. "You don't judge anybody on one inning," said Oates.

"They're not always going to hit the ball right at somebody. And if we had caught the ball [first baseman David Segui was charged with an error on a smash by Kent Hrbek], he would've gotten out of the inning with one run."

As for Pennington, Oates continued to use the same line he's used all spring. "I'm just going to sit back and keep on looking," he said. "He'll get plenty of chances."

Last year Pennington played at every minor-league level in the Orioles' organization, starting at Single-A Frederick and finishing Triple-A Rochester. The opinion on him is unanimous: If he throws strikes, he makes it.

"I was more in control [than his last outing] except for a couple of times I tried to throw too hard," said Pennington, whose fastball is well documented.

Although Pennington possibly fits into both the present and future plans of the Orioles, Williamson could be the key figure in the search for a fifth starter. He leads Anthony Telford and Fernando Valenzuela (who makes his first Orioles start today) in the duel for the open spot.

Williamson says the only difference in his approach so far is a more regulated work schedule. "I'm getting more quality work on the side than I have in years past," he said. "The work schedule of throwing every other day [during the regular season] would be the only difference. As a reliever you don't have that luxury."

After his initial misfortune yesterday, Williamson recovered to pitch two hitless innings. "When I started I wasn't getting the ball inside consistently to left-handed hitters -- and that was all they had in the lineup," he said.

"One pitch would be right where I wanted, the next would be out over the plate," said Williamson.

So far, all of Williamson's appearances have been in relief, but the Orioles don't see the transition to starter being a problem.

"I don't think it would be hard for him," Oates said of Williamson's possible conversion. "He should be able to handle it because I really won't use him any differently than I have in the past.

"I've never used him in back-to-back games if he's pitched more than one inning. And when he's gone three or more, I've given him three days of rest. Basically, this wouldn't be any different."

At the moment, Oates plans to stretch Williamson out to six innings, or the equivalent, once before the season starts. By that time the manager will have decided who the No. 5 starter will be, and Williamson will know whether he'll make the switch from bullpen to dugout.

Pennington's situation is not as clear. The assumption all along has been that if the 6-foot-5 left-hander throws strikes he'll survive the final cut.

However, depending on trade possibilities and the number of pitchers retained, Pennington's remaining

options and need for regular work could enter the picture.

"[Jim] Poole has pitched well enough to convince me that he deserves a spot," said Oates, who previously had said two bullpen spots were open. The manager would prefer to have two left-handers in the bullpen, especially in light of Mike Flanagan's misfortune as the only lefty reliever for half of last season.

If Oates opens the season with the traditional 10-man staff (he is considering 11), there are only two pitching jobs open -- one for a starter, the other for a reliever.

At the moment, Williamson and Pennington are the leading candidates -- though Oates cautions that it still is too early to make those decisions.

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