With arm sound, Bielecki awaits major-league call

SIDELINES

February 06, 1994|By PAT O'MALLEY

Mike Bielecki feels so good that he's "frustrated."

The 34-year-old Crownsville resident has been a major-league pitcher for the past eight years, but is anxiously awaiting a phone call that will give him a shot at a ninth season.

His right arm feels "great, better than ever," and his confidence is back after a season of anxiety that almost ushered in his retirement.

Coming off arm surgery, Bielecki, a 6-foot-3 and 200-pound right-hander, struggled through a 1993 season with the Cleveland Indians and the Orioles' Triple-A team, the Rochester Red Wings.

After starting 13 games with the Indians, going 4-5 with an ERA of 5.90 and giving up 90 hits, walking 23 and striking out 38 in 69 innings, Bielecki was released just a couple days before he would have been eligible for a $100,000 incentive bonus.

In June, it was obvious that Cleveland wasn't going to contend for the American League East title, so the Indians resorted to a few cost-saving measures, with Bielecki's release one of them.

"If I had been general manager, I would have done the same thing," said Bielecki.

"It was a business decision. If I had made three more starts, I could have earned another $100,000 in addition to the first 100 grand for being with the club on certain date."

Not long after his release, Bielecki, who has spent most of his career in the National League with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves, compiling a career record of 57-57, signed a minor-league contract with the Orioles.

"I had always wanted to pitch for the hometown team and was really excited about signing with the Orioles," said Bielecki, whose best season was 18-7 in 1989 with the division-winning Cubs.

"Expecting to be called up in September, I was not among a few moves they made in August and was surprised. So, I called them in mid-August and asked if they were going to call me up, and they said no. They told me they had no [major-league] roster spots and that Rochester was going to be in the playoffs."

Bielecki, who got off to a 5-1 start at Rochester but finished 5-3 with a 5.03 ERA, wasn't impressed with pitching in the Triple-A playoffs.

"I had just been in a World Series the year before [with Atlanta], and they expected me to be excited about pitching in minor-league playoffs. I told them to forget it, and I went home," he said.

Bielecki returned to his Crownsville home with his wife and 15-month-old daughter. For the first time, he seriously pondered retirement.

After a few weeks, he had to find out whether he could still pitch. He decided to try in a winter league in Puerto Rico.

"I had to find out if I could still do it and wasn't going to be a slave to the game," said Bielecki. "It takes a lot of work to get ready, and I decided to go for it."

Bielecki went 2-3 in Puerto Rico, but more importantly regained his confidence and strong arm.

"Before my arm surgery [1992], the doctor said it would take about a year to rehab, and rehabbing my elbow is pretty much what I did in '93," said Bielecki.

"I went down to Puerto Rico to see if it would be worth it to go to spring training with somebody, and my velocity is back up, better than it was before I got hurt with Atlanta. I was clocked at 92 mph after throwing only in the low 80s last summer.

"I had no confidence last year, but my resilience is back, and I feel so good I'm frustrated waiting [for that phone call]."

Bielecki is convinced that he can do the job as a setup man and "could pitch every other day as a reliever" for some club.

He and his agent, Baltimore's Ron Shapiro, have talked to Atlanta, Pittsburgh, the Montreal Expos, Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants because he prefers the National League.

"I know the National League better because that's where I've been most of my career, and over there, they want their starters to pitch a lot of innings and their relievers to pitch in a lot of games," said Bielecki.

Bielecki, who says he would accept a minimum salary contract with incentives, said Thursday that he "has a good feeling that something good is going to happen within a week."

Meanwhile, he will continue to work out at the U.S. Naval Academy.

"I'm ready to revive my career as a reliever, and if somebody invites me to spring training, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed it will be Philly, I'll make their club," said Bielecki.

"I've got my confidence back, and no, I'm not ready to retire. I guess the only way I will is if they tear the uniform off my back."

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