McDonald battles ERA buster RFK's shallow left grabs 2 home runs

April 04, 1993|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Before yesterday's final Orioles exhibition game at RFK Stadium, Rick Sutcliffe was ragging on Ben McDonald about the latter's tidy ERA this spring.

"Sut started on me," said McDonald. "He said, 'That good ERA is going to go to hell in this ballpark.' I don't know why, but I seem to get this [Washington] game every year."

RFK is not a pitcher's paradise with the left-field line barely more than 200 feet away from the plate, the soft turf not conducive to defensive excellence and the home-plate umpire having trouble seeing the pitcher's deliveries because of glare from over the walls.

But McDonald swept into the 1993 regular season with a respectable outing. His spring ERA rose only slightly to 3.54 and, although his home runs allowed doubled to four, there were extenuating circumstances.

The final McDonald line: seven innings, three runs, two walks, nine strikeouts (matching his career regular-season high).

"I feel like I gave up one run," said McDonald. "Neither one of those home runs [by rookie Carlos Garcia and Dave Clark] goes on a regular field. They're fly outs."

Gopher balls are an especially sensitive topic with McDonald, whose 32 given up last season was the second-highest in the majors and only three short of the team record (Robin Roberts, 1963, and Scott McGregor, 1986).

"I'm going to give up my share because I pitch high in the zone," McDonald said. "Thirty-two is too many. I can live with 20 or 22."

Cutting down on his generosity with homers and walks are McDonald's goals for the season. He has done well in both areas this spring.

After averaging almost three bases on balls a game in 1992, McDonald walked only five batters in 28 innings while compiling a 4-1 record this exhibition season. Had he won yesterday, he would have tied for the major-league lead in spring victories.

"I'll take what I had today every time out," said McDonald, who left the 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh with the score tied at 3. "I had good command, good control. I left a few changeups up and in this ballpark it's almost impossible to shut anybody out."

Manager Johnny Oates withheld judgment on McDonald's effort because of the field conditions. "It was hard to get a read," said Oates. "The ground is soft, the catcher can't see the ball, the umpire can't see the ball."

"It's not a whole lot of fun to pitch here," added McDonald. "Any time you try to throw a mound together, it's not going to hold up. I kept packing it every inning. There was a hole."

Overall, McDonald has had a good spring.

Pitching coach Dick Bosman said McDonald "has added some different wrinkles" to his repertoire, but wouldn't elaborate. "The idea is to make the race car a little better with no major overhauls."

The pitcher was satisfied with his spring except for his March 29 performance against the Texas Rangers when he surrendered five runs in six innings in a game the Orioles won, 11-5.

"That wasn't a real good one," said McDonald. "I got a little tired."

Yesterday, the velocity was there. The location was there. And the results were there.

McDonald will make his regular-season debut at the Kingdome -- another homer haven -- in the Orioles' road opener at Seattle on Friday. But he will not see any place like RFK again this season.

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