Orioles see bright side of 11-4 loss to Cardinals

March 06, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Only during the exhibition season is it possible for an 11-4 loss to produce more positives than negatives. Such was the case with the Orioles yesterday, when the St. Louis Cardinals scored nine runs in the seventh inning to hand them their second straight exhibition defeat.

Forget that left-hander Jim Poole gave up two walks and allowed five hits against eight batters. Don't worry that Lee Smith, one of the game's best control relief pitchers, threw two wild pitches.

Just call it a bad exhibition.

"I hope it's the only one of those days," said Poole.

Before Poole entered, the Orioles had a 3-2 lead and enough positives to carry the day. Rafael Palmeiro had two hits, including his third home run in three days, and Jeffrey Hammonds celebrated his 23rd birthday by going 2-for-2.

More importantly, Mike Mussina pitched two pain-free innings, Arthur Rhodes made a lot of quality pitches, Mark Eichhorn was impressive in two scoreless innings and Brad Pennington retired the three batters he faced.

The bad and the ugly was confined to one inning.

"[Poole] just didn't get the ball where he wanted," said manager Johnny Oates. "And don't worry about Lee -- he'll be there when we're ready. I don't think he gets too worked up about blowouts or exhibition games."

Said Smith: "You'd like to have a better start with a new organization -- I hope Johnny doesn't judge me on one inning. If he does, my locker might be burned out when I get back [to the club's training complex]."

Smith appeared to be throwing with velocity much better than the 84 mph he was rumored to be down to last year, but he was erratic.

"I thought my 58-foot slider was sharp," he said jokingly. "I've been working on that pitch, but I think I held on to a few of them too long. Did I hit the grass [in front of home plate] with about three of them?"

Though his results weren't impressive (two hits and runs in as many innings), Mussina's performance left everyone satisfied.

"I was looking forward to cranking it up again," said Mussina, who was sidelined with assorted injuries for much of the second half of last season. "Except for a couple of fastballs in -- one down the [opposite field] line and a blooper to center -- everything was fine. I felt better in the second inning than I did in the first [when the Cardinals scored their first two runs].

"You always have some mental hurdles in spring training, even if you're not coming off an injury. Nothing I did was any different [than previous spring training outings] and I haven't had any setbacks. I feel really pleased."

That was good enough for Oates and pitching coach Dick Bosman.

"Mike's fastball isn't there yet, but he's healthy," said Oates. "And as long as he's healthy, he'll be OK."

Oates and Bosman were more reserved about Rhodes, but the left-hander said his performance was a step in the right direction.

"For the first time out, facing a different team, I thought I threw pretty good," he said.

Oates and Bosman said they would like to see more consistency and a faster pace from Rhodes.

"I'm encouraged, but we still have a long way to go," said Bosman. "He made some good pitches, but he needs more off-speed strikes, more location with the fastball and more counts that put him ahead of the hitter."

Said Oates: "Let's face it, if he keeps putting zeros on the board I don't care how long he takes. But sooner or later he's going to need the defense, and we don't want him putting us to sleep. We'd like to see him pick up the pace a little bit."

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