Sutcliffe gets turned out of rotation Right-hander will try to regain form in bullpen

August 21, 1993|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

The starts, 375 of them to be precise, had come so often that Rick Sutcliffe was hard-pressed last night to recall the last time he worked out of the bullpen.

But that's where he finds himself now, in the role of a long reliever. Orioles manager Johnny Oates yesterday removed Sutcliffe from the starting rotation to make way for Mike Mussina, last night's starter who returned from a minor-league rehabilitation assignment.

To make room on the roster for Mussina, Mike Oquist was optioned to Triple-A Rochester.

The move comes after Sutcliffe had started the past two Opening Days and assumed the role of No. 1 starter since joining the team before last season.

Sutcliffe (9-9, 5.57 ERA), who last worked in relief in Chicago in 1991 and has six career saves, got the news in a pre-game meeting with Oates, but said he saw the warning signs coming long before that.

"Johnny didn't put me there [bullpen] as much as my performance did. I can totally understand," said Sutcliffe.

Oates could have sent either Fernando Valenzuela or Jamie Moyer to the bullpen, but their recent outings have surpassed Sutcliffe's.

Save for strong performances against Boston and Cleveland, the right-hander has been hit hard recently, reaching the seventh inning only four times in his past 10 starts. Twice, he has failed to get out of the first inning, including a stint in which he gave up five runs to Detroit. Combined with his most recent start in Seattle on Monday, when the Mariners roughed him up for eight runs in 3 2/3 innings, Sutcliffe has an ERA of 6.26 in his past two outings.

"My velocity hasn't been a problem. It's location. That and the lack of confidence in my slider," said Sutcliffe, who was winless ,, in July for the second straight season.

In announcing Sutcliffe's demotion, Oates would only say that the pitcher "took it great."

It's safe to say the meeting was a bit more emotional than Oates' retelling, given that Oates, who was a teammate of Sutcliffe's in Los Angeles in 1979 and a coach with the Cubs for three years, lobbied for the Orioles to sign Sutcliffe before last season when virtually every other club in baseball passed on him because of arm difficulties.

Asked if their discussion was tough on Oates, Sutcliffe said, "Yeah. He said it's the second toughest thing he's had to do here and the first thing was [announcing the reassignment of Cal Ripken] Senior."

But Sutcliffe was quick to praise Oates for giving him a chance to prove he could pitch.

"There were a lot of teams that thought my career was over. Johnny and the fans of Baltimore and you guys [the media] will never know how much this has meant to my wife, my daughter and me," Sutcliffe said.

So now, for the first time in years, Sutcliffe is uncertain when he will pitch.

"My next appearance will be on the mound Sunday in the family game. I'm looking forward to it," said Sutcliffe with a wry smile.

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