Orioles represent both painful end, fresh start in left-hander's career


July 18, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

Maybe the thought would have crossed Jamie Moyer's mind if the Orioles still played at Memorial Stadium rather than at Camden Yards. Maybe it wouldn't have been buried as deep if so many things hadn't happened since to Moyer.

But there he was, sitting in the home team's dugout at Oriole Park on Thursday afternoon, being asked about it all. About the injury four years ago that sidetracked his career. About the irony of his resurrection this season with the Orioles.

"To this day, I don't know what happened," Moyer said. "I never really thought about it that way, but it's interesting the way things have worked out."

All he knows is this: Shortly after throwing a pitch to Mickey Tettleton in a game between the visiting Texas Rangers and the Orioles on May 30, 1989, Moyer began to experience discomfort in his left shoulder. Moyer thought it was a muscle pull.

It wasn't. A number of prominent orthopedists, including the famed Dr. Frank Jobe, diagnosed Moyer's ailment as a strained scapula. The injury, which then-Rangers manager Bobby Valentine attributed to the pitcher's mound at Memorial Stadium, caused Moyer to miss three months.

"The coaches in Texas felt that there might have been a problem with the mound, because Nolan Ryan and another of our pitchers also had some soreness after that series, but I've never had an answer," Moyer said. "All I know is that injury set me back. Three months felt like three years."

Moyer, who had won 28 games in his first 2 1/2 seasons with the Chicago Cubs and had started 3-0 with the Rangers that year, wound up with a 4-9 record and was released after going 2-6 in 1990. Thus began a two-year, four-team odyssey, all but two months of it in the minor leagues.

An 0-5 start with the St. Louis Cardinals led to a demotion to Triple-A Louisville in May 1991. Moyer didn't return to the major leagues until the Orioles called him up from Rochester in May of this year to replace injured Arthur Rhodes in the starting rotation. Moyer was out of baseball completely for six weeks last year.

"It took me a year [after the injury] to regain my arm strength," said Moyer, 30, who was invited by the Orioles to spring training as a non-roster player. "But when you get hurt and go back to the minor leagues, baseball has a way of feeling that you're not the same pitcher you once were."

It is especially true with off-speed pitchers -- "soft-tossers" they're called -- such as Moyer.

But if last season's 10-8 record and 2.86 ERA in Toledo or this year's 6-0 start with the Red Wings didn't convince the skeptics that Moyer still could pitch in the majors, the past two months have.

Back on winning track

Going into tomorrow's scheduled start against the Kansas City Royals, Moyer seemingly has put back together the pieces of a once promising career. After losing his first three starts with the Orioles, Moyer (5-4, 3.60 ERA) won five straight decisions before 4 2/3 erratic innings a week ago today against the Chicago White Sox.

"Right now he's making a lot of very good pitches," Orioles manager Johnny Oates said of Moyer.

Moyer's performance, which included three straight wins on a 10-game road trip last month, will make for some interesting decisions once Rhodes is healthy enough to return. The 23-year-old left-hander, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery May 18, is on a rehab assignment in Rochester.

A few years ago, Moyer might have fretted more about his future and taken those concerns to the mound every time he pitched. But along the road back to the big leagues -- a trip that included the birth of two sons to Moyer and his wife, Karen -- there came a feeling that few things aside from his control were within his control.

Fatherhood, and maturity

"I used to go out there thinking, 'If I don't pitch well, am I going to be sent down, are they going to release me?' " recalled Moyer, who became a minor-league free agent after the pitching-poor Detroit Tigers did not show interest after last season. "But I've never felt that way here, even in spring training. Mentally, I feel like I'm 30, and that experience has helped me. Physically I feel like I'm 25."

Karen Moyer says her husband's struggle had its benefits in terms of their personal life. While in Louisville, Ky., he was allowed to fly home to South Bend, Ind., between starts after the birth of their first child. Though the minor-league paycheck presented burdens on a young couple used to major-league comforts, it did provide a chance for the Moyers to grow up.

"I think having two children in the minor leagues really helped; it gave him a different perspective, that baseball wasn't the only thing in his life," said Karen Moyer, whose father is former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps. "You get as excited about a 2-year-old throwing a ball than your husband. We know what's important. Jamie taught me that you take every day as it comes. You don't take anything for granted."

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