Sutcliffe tackles slump with work, not worry Job in jeopardy, vet doesn't panic

August 18, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

SEATTLE -- If right-hander Rick Sutcliffe is going through a career crisis, and the line scores from his past two games would suggest that he is, he seems determined not to panic.

He suffered through another difficult evening Monday, giving up eight earned runs in 3 2/3 innings to lengthen an already extended slump for both himself and the Orioles. He is beginning to look vulnerable . . . and not just to opposing lineups.

Orioles manager Johnny Oates is going to have to make a pitching decision soon. Right-hander Mike Mussina is scheduled to return to the starting rotation Friday night, which means that somebody is going to have to step aside to make room. Sutcliffe figured to be safe, until he put together back-to-back starts in which he has given up 13 earned runs in 4 2/3 innings.

Now, it looks as though the three-game series against the Seattle Mariners -- which ends with an afternoon game at the Kingdome today -- may determine who will stay and who will go.

Sutcliffe already has pitched, Fernando Valenzuela took a three-hitter into the eighth inning to strengthen his position last night and Jamie Moyer will try to do the same today. None of the club's three veteran starters is entirely safe, but Sutcliffe insists he is not worried.

"Not really," he said after Monday night's 8-6 loss. "I don't control that and I'm not going to worry about it. I'm just trying to figure out a way to get better. I've struggled before. I've always had periods where I got mechanically out of sync. But right now, I'm like two people out there, the lower half is going one way and the upper half is completely the opposite."

The game Monday night was typical of the problems he has had this year. Sutcliffe gave up four runs in the first inning and four more in the fourth, dropping his record to 9-9. In his past 10 starts, he is 1-7 with a 7.98 ERA and has given up 25 earned runs in the first inning.

Think of it. When he has been on the mound the past 10 starts, the Orioles have come out of the first inning an average of 2.5 runs behind, which is quite a handicap when you're trying to overcome three other contending teams.

Oates hasn't decided what he's going to do. He even spent part of Monday night second-guessing the way he has handled his starting rotation already. It may have looked as if he left Sutcliffe in too long, but the alternative was to further burden a bullpen that is far thinner than the starting rotation.

"You can't go out and take them out any earlier," Oates said, "but then you try to get one more hitter and we're out of the ballgame."

Monday night's game was a good example. Sutcliffe gave up four quick runs in the first inning -- two of them on a home run by Jay Buhner. He worked out of a bases-loaded situation in the second and came within an out of getting off with only one run in the fourth. If he had gotten that out, the Orioles might have won the game, but instead the Mariners took advantage of an infield hit and an error to keep the inning alive and build a six-run lead.

"The only thing I can think of is to assume every night that your starter is not going to get out of it," Oates said in frustration.

He can't do that. The Orioles already have used 15 different pitchers on this trip. If Oates had a quicker hook, he wouldn't have any pitching depth left.

The Orioles have brought up three Triple-A pitchers the past eight days, including the already-departed Anthony Telford, right-hander Mike Oquist and left-hander John O'Donoghue. Oquist has filled in admirably, making two scoreless appearances and working 3 1/3 scoreless Monday night to give the club a chance to battle back in the late innings. But this no longer is the pitching staff of a contending ballclub.

Sutcliffe knows he is part of the problem, which is particularly distressing to a guy who always has prided himself on being an anchor for the rest of the staff.

"I don't know what to do," he said. "It's not just one thing you can put your finger on. I'm throwing a lot of pitches early and don't have any left. We've tried a lot of things to get ready for the first inning. We've warmed up shorter. We've warmed up longer. I just haven't been able to figure it out. We just keep hoping that we're going to get it turned around.

"We just keep hoping."

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