Orioles pitch around Sutcliffe suspension

KEN ROSENTHAL

June 24, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

The Orioles timed Rick Sutcliffe's five-game suspension perfectly. When he dropped his appeal, it set up their pitching rotation for the next four series, including the three on this homestand against the Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays.

Sutcliffe beat the Tigers 6-2 last night and is now 3-0 with a 1.39 ERA against them since joining the Orioles. As a bonus, he won't face the Yankees, against whom he's 1-3 with a 8.37 ERA.

American League president Bobby Brown will be delighted to learn how the Orioles manipulated his penalties for their June 6 brawl against the Seattle Mariners, but let him take his case to the commissioner.

The Orioles couldn't have planned this any better. First, they got TC a hot Jamie Moyer to pitch on three days rest in the final game of the Cleveland series. Moyer responded with a victory, his third on the club's 7-3 road trip.

But that was only the start.

The timing of the suspension enabled the Orioles to line up three right-handers for Detroit, a team that is 12-5 against left-handed starters. And now, they can throw two left-handers at New York, a team featuring Don Mattingly and Wade Boggs.

After that, they'll get another desirable set of matchups against Toronto, using two right-handers in the three games. It all might be sheer coincidence, of course. But in an age where computers spew out countless statistics, who's kidding whom?

Manager Johnny Oates is smart enough to pull such a stunt, and Sutcliffe is sly enough to play along. No doubt they shared a wink last night, after Sutcliffe pitched the first complete game against the Tigers since Aug. 26.

Never mind that Sutcliffe entered the game allowing 14.8 base runners per nine innings, highest among AL starters. After 15 starts, he is 8-2 with a 4.45 ERA -- about the same he was at this point last season, when he was 9-4 with a 4.09 ERA.

He pitched on seven days' rest last night, and the result probably will persuade Oates to skip at least one start with his ace right-hander Mike Mussina, who is suffering from a mild case of biceps tendinitis in his pitching arm.

Sutcliffe said his five-game suspension made him stir crazy -- "I don't care who you are, when you're not contributing, people look at you funny" -- but he again expressed little regret for his role in the brawl.

"I just wish I would have been a little smaller -- I might have been able to get away with some of the punches I threw," the 6-foot-7 Sutcliffe joked. "But it's not something that was premeditated or planned. It happens, and you go.

"I've got a temper like everyone else," Sutcliffe continued. "But maybe the next time we should just wait until the game's over. It would be a whole lot less expensive."

You've got to love Sutcliffe. He turned 37 three days ago, and he just keeps piling on innings, picking up victories, rolling along. Granted, the Orioles average five runs when he pitches, but the guy hasn't lost since April 27. It's not sheer luck.

As always with Sutcliffe, the question is, will it last? Indeed, the question now applies to the entire starting rotation. The Orioles are second in the AL with a 3.76 ERA, but it's possible that before long they'll need more pitching.

The ace (Mussina) figures to miss one or more starts as protection against further injury. Two other starters (Sutcliffe and Fernando Valenzuela) have combined for nearly 5,000 major-league innings. Another (Moyer) is performing far beyond expectations.

That leaves Ben McDonald as the potential ace. Arthur Rhodes is expected to begin his rehabilitation assignment shortly, but the way he was pitching before his knee surgery, the Orioles might want him to stay in the minor leagues the maximum 30 days.

All right, enough worst-case scenarios. The Tigers are 0-9 at Oriole Park. They'll take one more crack at the Curse of Camden Yards tonight, when Mark Leiter takes the mound against McDonald. Who knows what bizarre thing will happen is next?

Mike Moore's inexplicable throwing error aside, Sutcliffe picked the perfect occasion for his first complete game since last July 10. In fact, the night worked out so well, the Orioles might just drop the rest of their suspension appeals.

Don't laugh. With Mussina questionable for Sunday, the Orioles could start Alan Mills, drop his appeal the next day and gamble that the league would start his suspension immediately. Of course, they wouldn't even think of such a thing, would they?

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