Ex-Met Fernandez answers Oates call for arms... O's go 1-for-2 with free agents

November 23, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

Two years ago, he wouldn't have qualified as the type of pitcher the Orioles needed, but manager Johnny Oates said yesterday that Sid Fernandez fits nicely into his plans.

The 31-year-old left-hander became the first acquisition of the Orioles' new ownership era yesterday. He agreed to a contract that is guaranteed for $9 million over three years, with performance clauses and a fourth-year option that could take the package to about $14 million.

Although he has a career record of 98-79 and ERA of 3.15, Fernandez averaged only 159 innings in his 10 years with the New York Mets. He has logged more than 200 innings in a season only three times, with a high of 219 1/3 in 1989, when he was 14-5 with a 2.83 ERA.

The lack of innings, however, apparently doesn't alarm Oates. "We're in a different situation than we were when we signed [Rick] Sutcliffe two years ago," said Oates. "Then, we desperately needed someone to give us innings.

"As far as I'm concerned, this is a step in the right direction. He gives us a veteran left-handed starter to supplement our starting rotation.

"We feel like we have an idea what we can get from [Ben] McDonald and [Mike] Mussina, and this gives us a third guy we can count on. If you've got five guys who can give you 185 innings or more, that's plenty, and I certainly think he [Fernandez] is capable of giving us that.

"With the way Jamie Moyer pitched last year, that gives us four starters, and we got some guys to pick from for the fifth spot -- whether it be Arthur Rhodes, Sutcliffe or one of the younger guys."

Fernandez, who was a constant target for criticism while with the Mets because of his weight (he's listed at 6 feet 1, 225 pounds) and injuries, says he's gotten a bad rap in that department. "I don't know why people get the impression I'm among the walking wounded," he said yesterday from his home in Hawaii.

"I don't have any physical problems. I was examined when I was in Baltimore, and my shoulder is sound, my knees are sound. Two years ago, I got a broken wrist [after being hit by a line drive] and last year I had a bad knee [small cartilage tear] after stepping into a hole.

"I don't know how I can be blamed for those things -- they were accidents. People just don't realize."

In his 13 starts after returning from the knee injury in 1993, Fernandez went 4-6, but had a 2.56 ERA and held opposing batters to a .182 average.

Orioles general manager Roland Hemond went so far as to say Fernandez's misfortune in two of the past three years could be a hidden benefit for the Orioles.

"The fact that he hasn't thrown a lot the last few years could be a blessing for us," said Hemond.

In between the injuries in 1991 and last year, Fernandez posted a 14-11 record with a 2.73 ERA for the Mets in 1992. But he said he knew early that 1993 would be his last season with the Mets.

"We [he and agent Tom Selakovich] went to [former Mets GM] Al Harazin six times, and they never made an offer," Fernandez said. "We wanted to talk, but they didn't."

In addition to the Orioles, the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians were in the running to sign Fernandez. He said there was no significant difference in the offers from the three teams, and his initial impression was the deciding factor.

"The Orioles were the first team to contact me, and they showed the most interest," he said. "The money was pretty close, but that's where I wanted to play.

"I just think Baltimore wanted me more than the other two teams. It's a great organization and a great park, and I'm looking forward to playing there."

Although he slotted Fernandez behind McDonald and Mussina ("I don't know which one of those guys you'd rank No. 1 right now"), Oates indicated that didn't mean he was the No. 3 starter.

"It might be nice to throw him in between those two right-handers," said Oates. "We'll sort that out later."

Oriole Park at Camden Yards is considered friendliest to left-handed hitters, and Hemond said: "You're always looking for left-handers, and this gives us the possibility of three left-handed starters [along with Rhodes and Moyer]."

Despite a relatively modest win total, Fernandez brings with him some impressive statistical credentials. He has allowed 6.64 hits per nine innings, second in baseball history behind Nolan Ryan (6.55) among pitchers who have pitched at least 1,500 innings. ++ He also ranks sixth, behind Ryan, Sandy Koufax, Sam McDowell, David Cone, and J. R. Richard with an average of 8.25 strikeouts per nine innings.

In addition, Fernandez has allowed only 10.26 base runners per nine innings, the best ratio in the majors among active pitchers who have pitched 1,500 innings.

Martinez released

Having previously promoted seven minor-leaguers, the Orioles had to make room for Fernandez on the 40-man roster. They did so by asking for release waivers on outfielder Chito Martinez, who appeared in eight games last year.

Those added to the roster were catcher Greg Zaun, outfielders Alex Ochoa, Mark Smith and Jim Wawruck, right-handed pitchers Rick Forney and Armando Benitez and left-hander Rick Krivda. They were promoted to protect them from next month's Rule V draft.

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