Pennington proves to be toughest cut for Oates

April 01, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Rookie reliever Brad Pennington wanted to understand. He was willing to accept the reasoning behind the Orioles' decision to send him back to the minor leagues yesterday, but that didn't help with the pain.

He didn't give up a run during the exhibition season, but with veterans Mark Williamson and Fernando Valenzuela throwing zeros all spring, there just wasn't room on the Opening Day roster for a kid with minor-league options left.

"That's the part that I understand, but that doesn't make it easier to swallow," said Pennington. "It just makes it easier to understand. Hopefully, I'll go down, pitch well and come back up. I pitched as well as I can pitch, but looking at the roster, I kind of expected to be the odd man out."

Expectation became reality in an emotional meeting with manager Johnny Oates late yesterday afternoon. Pennington was assigned to the Orioles' minor-league camp as the club cut down to 26 players for the trip back to Baltimore today. Pennington emerged with red eyes and hurt feelings, but he looked a lot happier than the man who had to deliver the bad news.

"It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do," said Oates, who also struggled to keep his composure. "There was nothing I could say. I told Brad, I can sit in his chair and make an argument why he should be pitching in Baltimore, and I can sit in my chair and make an argument for him going to Rochester, and I believe both arguments."

The arguments for Pennington were compelling. He is a hard-throwing left-hander who pitched well at every level of the Orioles' minor-league system last year and was untouched in seven preseason appearances this spring. He was expected to go to Baltimore with the club if he pitched well, but the emergence of Valenzuela as the likely fifth starter changed the bullpen chemistry.

The case for more minor-league experience also is legitimate. It might be better for Pennington to go back to the International League and pitch regularly rather than remain on the fringe of the major-league staff.

"Right now, it's hard for me to say that this is for the best because I don't think I can pitch any better than I did this spring."

He would get no argument from Oates.

"He was outstanding," Oates said. "He did everything we asked him to do. We told him he had to throw strikes and he had to get people out. He did it all. Brad Pennington is not off this team because of something he didn't do."

Oates wanted to make sure that Pennington understood what was happening and why. He could be heard raising his voice at one point during the meeting, but only -- he said -- to make sure that he got his point across.

"I yelled at him the same way I yell at my son sometimes," Oates said. "There are times when you can tell they aren't listening and you have to get their attention."

Pennington figures to be back soon, but that was small consolation on what was a tumultuous day of roster moves.

Oates didn't enjoy having to tell Anthony Telford that he had lost the fifth-starter competition. It wasn't any fun sending outfielders Jack Voigt, Mark Leonard and Jeffrey Hammonds out, either. But none of those moves affected him quite as much as the decision to leave Pennington behind.

"Just knowing Brad . . . to me, he's very special," Oates said. "I'd just like to leave it at that. I want him to succeed more than any other guy in that clubhouse. I want everyone to succeed, of course, but I have my own reasons for wanting to see him succeed more."

The only way that Oates could have kept Pennington and the two fifth-starter candidates was to go with an expanded pitching staff.

"I just can't see using an 11th pitcher," Oates said. "This is a matter of what helps me the most. This way, I can have my cake and eat it, too."

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