Orioles likely to ask Valenzuela to accept minor-league stint

April 15, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas -- After one ineffective but inconclusive game, the Orioles aren't ready to give up on Fernando Valenzuela. But logic dictates they will ask the veteran left-hander to accept a minor-league assignment before his next start.

Manager Johnny Oates, general manager Roland Hemond and assistant general manager Frank Robinson said such a move hadn't been discussed and refused to speculate on the possibility. "No matter who the player might be, you couldn't comment on something like that without talking to the principals first," Hemond said last night from his home in Baltimore.

Any move of that nature also would have to be approved by Valenzuela. As a five-year veteran, he could refuse an assignment to the minor leagues, become a free agent, and the Orioles would be obligated to pay him the $250,000 guaranteed portion of his contract. In the best interest of his comeback attempt, however, such a move might be in the best interest of both sides.

After Valenzuela was charged with six earned runs in the 8-3 loss to the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night, Oates said his plans for Valenzuela hadn't changed. "April 27th [when the Orioles are in Chicago] is the next time we'll need a fifth starter," he said. "That hasn't changed since spring training."

And Oates indicated he still plans for Valenzuela to make that start. "Depending on what happens between now and then, that'll be his next start," said Oates.

One of the things that could change that schedule would be a postponement, in which case Valenzuela's next start could be pushed back five more days. As it is, Valenzuela will go two weeks between starts.

The reviews on the 2 1/3 innings Valenzuela worked two nights ago could most charitably be described as mixed. But the results, as ugly as they were, would have been predictable for anybody working as the fifth starter this time of the year.

nTC Oates thought Valenzuela was so strong and so pumped up that he was trying to throw too hard. "I don't know this for a fact, but I would bet he threw as hard tonight as he did in his prime with the Dodgers," Oates said after the game. "He just threw it all over the place."

Reaction from the Texas side wasn't as positive. "I'm sure he wasn't as sharp as he wanted to be, but he made some good pitches," said Rangers manager Kevin Kennedy, a minor-league manager in the Dodgers' system in Valenzuela's heyday. "He'll probably be better next time."

Others in the Rangers camp weren't as positive. "His stuff wasn't crisp at all," said pitching coach Claude Osteen, who was with Kennedy in the Dodgers' system the last four years.

"He really didn't have the screwball like I remember," said outfielder Gary Redus, one of the few Rangers who faced Valenzuela in the National League.

Generally, the Rangers didn't agree with Oates' assessment, saying they thought Valenzuela's fastball was below average and his curveball wasn't sharp. Their game plan was to move closer to the plate to reduce the screwball's effect.

That was Valenzuela's trademark pitch during his prime, and the one he used effectively in his early exhibition appearances this spring. However, in his last start in Florida, against Toronto April 1, and again Tuesday night, it appeared Valenzuela had trouble with the pitch.

"To me, he just didn't have good location at all," said Robinson, who otherwise couldn't fault the way Valenzuela threw against the Rangers. "He threw too many pitches in bad spots."

Sitting around for two weeks waiting for his next start doesn't figure to improve Valenzuela's control. He is not suited for a relief role, so the only way he'll get any work out of the bullpen would be in a blowout.

It would seem that the ideal situation for both Valenzuela and the Orioles would be for him to start a game this weekend and again late next week before his next scheduled assignment with the Orioles. The only way that can happen is if he agrees to go to the minor leagues.

That also would be the ideal solution to the Orioles' pitching crunch. In the first seven games, the bullpen logged almost as many innings (26 1/3 ) as the starters (37 2/3 ).

Two years ago, when he made a brief comeback attempt with the Angels, Valenzuela wouldn't return to the minors. This time, if the Orioles ask him, with a guarantee of a quick recall, he may not have a choice.

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