Fernando's start tonight no final exam, Oates says

April 26, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Left-hander Fernando Valenzuela will take the mound tonight for his second major-league start as an Oriole, facing the Chicago White Sox at what might be a pivotal point in his comeback attempt. But manager Johnny Oates said yesterday that it is not a pitch-well-or-else situation.

"It's not a must," Oates said. "We'll just wait and see. I don't have him on any timetable. I'm going to watch him pitch and go from there. Just one shot? That wouldn't be fair to him, considering the way he has pitched."

Valenzuela will face left-hander Wilson Alvarez in the first of a two-game series at Comiskey Park. He will be coming back on three days' rest after throwing 70 pitches in an appearance for the Double-A Bowie Baysox on Thursday night, but Valenzuela said he is much better prepared for tonight's game than he was for his debut in the starting rotation April 13.

"I know it's going to be better [tonight]," Valenzuela said. "There was a lot of difference between that game on Thursday and the games in Texas and Richmond. I threw more strikes. My location was better. That's what you want to see. Texas and Richmond -- it was real bad."

The Orioles need him to show improvement. The fifth-starter role is about to become more of a full-time position, and it takes on added importance with left-hander Arthur Rhodes struggling to right himself after three mediocre starts.

Valenzuela lasted 2 1/3 innings and gave up six earned runs against the Rangers, but he had pitched just one inning in the 12 days before that appearance. His control was erratic and he was unable to finish off hitters, but Oates said that his performance wasn't as bad as the pitching line might indicate.

"It just looked like he was trying to throw the ball too hard the first time," Oates said. "It looked like he was trying to strike everybody out instead of in spring training, when he was trying to get everybody to hit the ball. He was just trying to impress everybody so much -- which is natural."

Oates will get no argument from Valenzuela. He tried to do too much and accomplished very little.

"That's not a good idea," he said. "I think I tried to be perfect, and that's really hard. After that, I realized that wasn't a good idea. That's not the way it's supposed to be."

But every outing takes on added importance, because the team is not in a position to be patient. Tonight could be critical to his chances of making his comeback attempt a success, but he said yesterday that he is not feeling extra pressure.

"I never feel pressure," he said.

The Orioles will need a fifth starter again Saturday against the Kansas City Royals. Oates said that pitcher is likely to be Valenzuela, no matter how he pitches tonight.

"I would say it probably will be him," Oates said. "I made my decision in spring training. He's in the starting rotation. I don't expect to make another decision."

Oates is taking into consideration how difficult it is to remain in a regular routine without regular work. But it is obvious that Valenzuela will have to show something by Saturday to keep his place in the rotation.

"I think it's fair to say that, over the next few outings, he'll certainly be judged and graded," Oates said.

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