Outing is no relief for Pennington, O's

KEN ROSENTHAL

August 11, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

DETRIOT — DETROIT -- The fun began with Scott Livingstone's first triple in 747 career at-bats. It only got worse for the best team $173 million can buy.

The eight-game winning streak?

Kiss it goodbye.

The Detroit Tigers left the transformer above the third deck intact, but only out of respect to Reggie Jackson's recent Hall of Fame induction.

Chad Kreuter hit a home run off the facing of the third deck. Alan Trammell hit one into the upper deck, and Rob Deer crushed one 448 feet over the center-field wall.

Oh yeah, Dan Gladden had a wimpy opposite-field grand slam.

Oops, almost forgot.

To think, the Orioles had been 8-0 since Peter Angelos bought the club. Last night's 15-1 loss was a serious reality check for the new Orioles owner, and a side-splitter for auction runner-up Jeffrey Loria.

The climax occurred when Trammell and Deer hit back-to-back homers off Brad Pennington to give the Tigers a 12-run lead in the fifth inning. Pennington had replaced Ben McDonald, who allowed a mere nine runs.

The night began with the Orioles trying to regain first place. It ended with Damon Buford in center field, Sherman Obando in right, Jack Voigt at third base and Tim Hulett at shortstop.

The crowd was 20,546.

With all the homers, almost everyone got a free ball.

Seriously, one big question emerged from this game, and it didn't concern McDonald, who had a 2.35 ERA in his previous 17 starts, and clearly was entitled to a bad night.

Yes, his ERA rose from 3.03 to 3.50. Yes, the nine runs were three fewer than he allowed in all of July. Yes, the 3 2/3 innings amounted to his shortest outing since early April.

McDonald, however, is to the point where he can shake it off -- "It happens to Clemens. It happens to Cone. It happens to everyone," he said.

Pennington is another story.

The rookie left-hander had a 1.86 ERA in his first 19 major-league outings. But here's the combined pitching line from his last 10 appearances:

IP 8.2, H 21, ER 18, HR 6.

A tidy 18.69 ERA.

What will the Orioles do? They don't have an obvious replacement at Triple-A, but after last night, Johnny Oates probably will be afraid to use Pennington even when trailing by nine runs.

"If I go down, I go down," Pennington said, referring to a possible demotion. "When I'm out there, I'm not worried about that. With [Gregg] Olson hurt, I wanted to have a good game so I could get some confidence and he [Oates] could get confident enough to put me back in the role I was in."

Forget it. In a pennant race, every roster spot is critical. Because Pennington lasted only 2 1/3 innings, Oates was forced to use both Jim Poole and Todd Frohwirth, when one of them should have gotten the night off.

Pitching coach Dick Bosman said he is "somewhat" concerned that Pennington is losing confidence. Oates acknowledged, "We've got to get better," but did not indicate whether he is leaning toward a demotion.

"He's not throwing enough strikes right now, and when he does throw strikes, they seem to be right on them," Oates said. "He made some good pitches -- they looked ridiculous on some pitches. But other times, they were right on it."

To hear Pennington tell it, he simply needs to learn how to pitch in blowouts. Last night's outing -- four hits, four walks, four runs in 2 1/3 innings -- fits his recent pattern. He pitched poorly with huge ninth-inning cushions in back-to-back games last week.

The first night, he gave up three runs with the Orioles leading Milwaukee 13-5. The next night, he gave up a grand slam to Kevin Seitzer with the Orioles leading 8-2, and was replaced by Olson.

"It's a different situation than what I'm used to pitching in," Pennington said. "In the minor leagues, and when I first got up here, I'd come in with the game on the line. You rise up to it. It's more of a mental thing than anything else. Now I've got to rise to a different role."

That is, if he gets the chance. McDonald once experienced the same crisis of confidence, but he's in a different mind-set now. "It was one of those nights when I made a good pitch, they fouled it off, and if I made a bad pitch, they hammered it," he said, shrugging.

Pennington only wishes he were in the same comfort zone. It's a problem, when you keep pitching in laughers, but can't get anybody to smile.

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