Moyer has new lease, but usual uncertainty

February 20, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,SUN Staff Writer

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Two years ago he was about to lose his job. Last spring he was hoping to make an impression that would prolong, perhaps salvage, his career.

Today Jamie Moyer has the security of a $650,000 contract, a new lease on his baseball life. He also has the continued uncertainty that faces a journeyman pitcher -- but it's nothing less than he expects.

"It's always been that way," said the slender left-hander who provided the most unexpected lift to the Orioles' pitching staff a year ago. "I'm too small, I don't throw hard enough -- I've heard that all my life."

So, when people suggest his 12-9 record last year (with a 3.43 ERA) was a fluke, it doesn't upset or surprise him. He knows the Orioles are still looking for another experienced starting pitcher.

So be it.

"That's their job," Moyer said after going through his second spring training workout yesterday. "Every team is looking for more pitching. If the Orioles feel they have to get somebody to replace me, I have to go out and prove they don't.

"We picked up Fernando [Valenzuela] this time last year, and it was a great acquisition," said Moyer, whose chances of making the team out of spring training were destroyed by that move. But the addition of Valenzuela neither bothered, nor distracted Moyer.

"All I was looking for last year was a chance to make an impression," he said. "I had to show them, that if something happened, I could do a job."

It did and he did. After going 6-0 with a 1.67 ERA at Triple-A Rochester (after a 10-8, 2.86 season with Toledo in 1992), Moyer got his chance when Arthur Rhodes went on the disabled list with an injured knee. The rest is history.

Moyer lost his first three and last three starts of the season, but went 12-3 in between. It was a remarkable stretch for a pitcher who had a lifetime record of 34-55 before recording his first win last season.

The Orioles are Moyer's fourth major-league team (Cubs, Cardinals and Rangers) and fifth organization (he was in the Tigers' system in 1992), so he knows the feeling of rejection. And understands the skepticism.

"I haven't read any of the preseason predictions," he said. "But I'm sure everything that has been written is, 'Can he do it again? Will he do it again?'

"That's just fuel for me to work harder to make it happen. To prove them [the skeptics] wrong."

Moyer knows that many don't think he can duplicate last year. He politely disagrees.

"I don't think I've ever had the feeling I have right now," he said. "And it's not a feeling that I can walk in and say I'll be on the club. I know I still have to prove myself.

"But I have a feeling that I put something together last year. I don't want to say it's a feeling of comfort -- but it's one of confidence in where I am and what I'm doing. It's a feeling I haven't had before."

It's a feeling that comes from success, which is something else Moyer hadn't had before. "In the past, I thought I could do it -- now I know I can do it," he said.

"I've proven to myself that I can go out there outing after outing, keep the team in the game and not deplete the bullpen. I've seen it happen.

"You can visualize [getting hitters out] all you want, but until you see it, you're not going to believe it," said Moyer.

"It isn't like the light just clicked on," Moyer said of last year's performance. "There were things that have been coming together for the last couple of years."

Which is why he resisted a brief notion to give up baseball after being released by the Cubs two springs ago. He wasn't even offered a Triple-A job and for two months he didn't know where his next pay check was coming from.

He thought about going to Italy ["I was real close"] or Mexico, but got just enough encouragement to work out and wait. "Oakland and Pittsburgh were interested, but they had players coming off the disabled list and didn't have any place to put me," he recalled. "But at least I knew there was some interest."

It was almost the end of May when the Tigers gave him a job in Toledo. But, in what may have been a classic underestimation, they didn't invite Moyer to spring training a year ago.

The Orioles did, giving him a $7,000-per-month job at Rochester and a contract for $200,000 if he came to the big leagues. Everything has been positive since then, even the signing of Valenzuela, which might have delayed Moyer's arrival in Baltimore.

It gave him a chance to pitch regularly at Rochester and move into the wings, waiting for an opportunity. When it came, he took advantage of the situation.

A year later, he's back in the same training camp -- this time assured of a job. But Moyer doesn't look at it as a guarantee.

The skeptics are out there, and he'll have to prove to them that 1993 wasn't a career year. At the age of 31, Jamie Moyer is ready for the challenge.

He's already convinced the person who matters the most. Himself.

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