Valenzuela, then Orioles get acts together in 5-2 win

June 03, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Fernando Valenzuela couldn't do it all by himself. That much was apparent from a string of solid appearances in May that led to only one victory. He's going to need some cooperation to be a consistent winner again, and he got that yesterday at Oakland Coliseum.

The Orioles scored four times in the fifth inning to carry him to his second victory of the year, a 5-2 win over the Oakland Athletics that would not have been if he had not gotten his act together in the middle innings.

Valenzuela, who had been a victim of non-support on several occasions over the first two months of the season, was not on top of his game at the outset, but a lecture from pitching coach Dick Bosman and the four-run boost in the fifth inning made all the difference.

He went on to pitch into the seventh, giving up two runs (one earned) and five hits in 6 1/3 innings to earn his second win in his past four starts. The bullpen did the rest, with Mark Williamson pitching a scoreless 1 2/3 innings and Gregg Olson finishing up to earn his 11th save.

"The first four innings, he [Valenzuela] was borderline being out of there," manager Johnny Oates said. "He had thrown 88 pitches. I don't know how we got out of there with only two runs. Boz went out there and told him he needed to be more aggressive, especially early in the count. I just didn't think he was being aggressive enough in the strike zone."

Valenzuela agreed. He had handed No. 9 hitter Lance Blankenship a two-out walk to bring Rickey Henderson to the plate with a runner in scoring position in the fourth inning. Henderson made him pay with a run-scoring single that gave the A's a 2-1 lead.

"I needed to throw the ball over the plate more," Valenzuela said. "When I talked to Bosman, he said to go after the hitters . . . to be more aggressive. He said, 'You've got good velocity. Use it.' "

It was time to turn in a representative performance. The Orioles were pleased with the way Valenzuela had pitched over a four-start span from May 1 to May 18, but he had given up nine earned runs in 9 1/3 innings in his past two starts. He gave up just one earned run yesterday, dropping his ERA to 4.31 -- second-best in the Orioles' starting rotation.

To break down his performance further, Valenzuela has a 3.26 ERA in the seven starts since he settled into the rotation with his first solid performance on April 1, but that has not been reflected in the won-lost column.

Valenzuela's 2-5 record should -- on its face -- leave his job security open to question, but Oates and the Orioles brass can see through the numbers.

"I still don't have any goals or idea of what we should expect of him the rest of the year," Oates said. "But I feel on the whole he has thrown as well as any pitcher in our rotation except [Mike] Mussina, and there aren't very many pitchers in this league who have pitched as well as Mussina."

The Orioles have given him some offensive support in each of his two victories. He got seven runs the night he pitched a rain-shortened two-hit shutout to record his first major-league victory in more than two years. This time, he was locked in a pitching duel with Oakland starter Bobby Witt until the Orioles put up four runs in the fifth.

Reserve infielder Tim Hulett got the rally started with a leadoff single and moved up on a ground out by Jeff Tackett. Brady Anderson followed with a run-scoring double to right that tied the game, and Mark McLemore added a double to give the Orioles the lead. The final two runs of the inning scored when McLemore and Cal Ripken pulled off a double steal and A's catcher Terry Steinbach threw the ball down the left-field line.

Valenzuela wasn't the only one who benefited from being more aggressive. The Orioles stole eight bases in the three-game series, and their running helped make the difference in both victories over the A's.

"We got a break today on the double steal," Oates said. "That's usually a double play or we're the ones throwing the ball down the line."

The Orioles did not set out to give the A's the runaround. It just sort of turned out that way. Oates had hoped his team would be quicker on the bases this year, but the club had been caught stealing 23 times in 53 attempts coming into the game.

"There was nothing predetermined," Oates said. "We stole eight bases because we got the right guys on base and they got the jump."

Leadoff man Brady Anderson stole three bases in the series, but remains well behind the pace that carried him to 53 steals last year.

"Well, I got on base," he said. "That was the key. I take off when I think I can make it. I was on base more last year at this time. When you're ahead you can steal more. You don't usually run when you're down 4-0."

The Orioles ended up with a 5-5 record on the 10-game road trip, which had started with three victories in a four-game series at Yankee Stadium, but ran aground temporarily with a three-game California Angels sweep in Anaheim.

"I felt good about the beginning and the end," Oates said, "but the middle wasn't exactly what I had in mind. But if you've got to do it, that's the best way, because you feel good at the start and you feel good going home. We got beat 1-0 in New York and blew a three-run lead in California or it could have been an outstanding trip. . . . but we go from here."

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