AL's Big 3 taking toll on O's staff

KEN ROSENTHAL

June 28, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Few pitching staffs can withstand the strain of nine games in nine days against the league's three highest-scoring teams. Hot as the Orioles have been, manager Johnny Oates suddenly must confront a growing crisis in his bullpen with the first-place Toronto Blue Jays arriving tonight at Camden Yards.

Actually, Oates began confronting it yesterday, sticking with John O'Donoghue for 6 2/3 innings when a quicker hook seemed warranted. Now, the Orioles will promote a Rochester reliever to replace O'Donoghue and replenish their bullpen. It would be helpful if Rick Sutcliffe could pitch a complete game tonight.

The three candidates for promotion are Anthony Telford, Mike Oquist and Mike Cook, with Telford the likely choice. The decision is significant only for its symbolic meaning. When a team gets into this predicament during a magical 19-4 run, it simply reinforces how difficult it is to sustain success over a 162-game season.

Thrilling as their comebacks were Friday and Saturday nights, the Orioles were bound to suffer when neither of their starting pitchers completed four innings. Indeed, O'Donoghue's major-league debut yesterday would have ended sooner if it hadn't followed the poor outings by Fernando Valenzuela and Jamie Moyer.

O'Donoghue gave up seven extra-base hits in his 9-5 loss to the New York Yankees, including home runs by Mike Stanley, Jim Leyritz and Bernie Williams. The crowd of 45,146 gave him a standing ovation, perhaps sensing the extra hardship he endured for the team on a day the ball was flying out of Camden Yards.

Under different circumstances, Oates might have gone to his bullpen after Leyritz's one-out homer gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning, and certainly after Mike Gallego's leadoff double in the seventh. But Oates, mindful of the big picture, wanted to buy time for his relievers.

The Orioles are going so well, they nearly won this one despite their obvious handicap, getting the possible tying run to third base while trailing 6-5 in the eighth. But rookie Brad Pennington had the worst outing of his brief major-league career, allowing the Yankees' final three runs in the ninth.

Oates didn't want to use Pennington just three days after a 56-pitch outing, but he had little choice. Mark Williamson threw 62 pitches Saturday night, and Alan Mills was serving the second game of his four-game suspension, not that he would have been available after throwing 69 pitches Friday night.

Jim Poole? He had worked in four of the previous six games, and needed a day off. Todd Frohwirth? He replaced O'Donoghue to get the final out in the seventh, but put two on with two out in the eighth and the deficit still only one run. Faced with a Frohwirth-Kevin Maas matchup, Oates made his move to get Pennington-Pat Kelly.

So, who's available tonight? Not Mills, obviously, and not Pennington, either. Williamson said he "probably" could pitch, which means he'll be ready, but not necessarily sharp. That leaves Frohwirth, Poole and the Rochester call-up for the middle innings, with Gregg Olson remaining in his usual closer's role.

The good news is, Sutcliffe has worked into the seventh inning in seven of his past nine starts and the sixth in his other two. The bad news is, he'll be facing a Blue Jays team that leads the majors with a .282 batting average, and is tied with the Tigers for the lead with 90 home runs.

In a sense, the Orioles are fortunate: Their starters had an 11.20 ERA in the Yankees series, yet they still won two of three games. Even yesterday, they could take solace in home runs by Mike Devereaux and Cal Ripken and the fact they scored five runs with the red-hot Chris Hoiles batting only once.

Hoiles, the Orioles catcher, has six homers in his past 27 at-bats, the biggest power surge by an Oriole since Eddie Murray hit six in 21 at-bats in May 1987. But Oates continued his pattern of starting Jeff Tackett in a day game after a night game, "the better to lose the battle and win the war."

The same logic applied yesterday, not only with Oates' reluctance to use the bullpen, but also his initial decision to scratch Mike Mussina. In retrospect, Mussina might have been able to pitch -- he threw 12 pain-free minutes in a pre-game workout and is on track to make his next start Friday. But why take such a chance when it's only June?

This isn't the NFL, where the season is one-tenth as long and coaches exhaust every resource in an attempt to win every game. A wise manager weighs every option. Saves his players when necessary. And sometimes, sacrifice one game for the greater good.

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