For Moyer and Orioles, the comfort zone is there

March 09, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA — ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- When Jamie Moyer got walloped in his first spring training appearance the other day, you would expect that a small alarm sounded in the Orioles' management bunker. You would expect.

A thirtysomething pitcher coming off a comeback season doesn't usually command much management confidence until he proves that his performance wasn't a one-year wonder. Baseball doesn't trust a brief track record; the example of Jeff Ballard and countless others validates such skepticism.

But Moyer's poor outing against the Cardinals passed without a single alarm clanging. In fact, pitching coach Dick Bosman was smiling broadly yesterday after catching Moyer during a 20-minute workout in warm morning sunshine.

"That was midseason form, quantity and quality," Bosman said. "Jamie is ready to go right now."

If that's skepticism, it's well disguised.

True, the Orioles did try to squeeze Moyer out of their rotation this winter with their signing of Sid Fernandez, their holding onto Arthur Rhodes and their trade talks involving Pete Harnisch, TerryMulholland and others. But that had less to do with Moyer than with Peter Angelos' fondness for name players.

Remember, Moyer wasn't just a cute, little comeback story a year ago. He went 12-9, his win total one less than Ben McDonald's, and he improved as the season progressed, allowing two or fewer earned runs in each of his last nine starts.

Just about any team would take a No. 4 starter with such credentials. The Blue Jays and Yankees certainly would.

At the very least, Moyer earned his place in the rotation this year,giving him the power to determine whether '93 was a fluke or the start of something big. Neither the Orioles nor Moyer think it was the former.

"I see him getting better this season," Bosman said. "The confidence he has from his success is only going to buoy him."

So will the pitching style he has adopted after years of tinkering. Instead of using his change-up, his best pitch, only in important situations, he throws it constantly. In some starts last year, he threw as many as 40. Hitters accustomed to waiting for his change-up were left guessing, making Moyer's other pitches more useful.

"They never really adjusted to me," Moyer said. "If they do this year, there are other things we can do."

Said Bosman: "There are some veteran guys you need to overhaul in the spring. All I have to say to Jamie this spring is 'Go get 'em.' There's not a thing wrong with him."

Whether that continues to be the case is the issue, of course. Moyer's level-headed approach isn't going to hurt his cause. He barely celebrated after his breakthrough season.

"I went home, relaxed for a couple of weeks and went back to work," he said. "Don't get me wrong. I was very excited to get back to the majors and prove I could win. But what good is it if it's only one year and then I fall on my face? The real goal is to build a long career. If I had sat around thinking about how great it was that I did well, I'd be in trouble. What you did last year means nothing this year."

That is particularly true when you're no longer a phenom around whom a team makes plans. It's just a part of baseball's natural order that the Orioles are going to be more patient with a McDonald or a Mussina than a Moyer.

But here is how much sleep Moyer has lost worrying about that: none.

"I don't care if I'm 15, 25 or 45 years old, or if I'm the No. 1 starter, the No. 3 starter or the No. 50 starter," he said. "If they give me a ZTC chance, and if I produce, I'll have a job. As the cliche says, the numbers don't lie. Which means that it's up to me still, regardless of the circumstances."

Thus, all the off-season inconstancy didn't faze him.

"I didn't hear much of the [Orioles'] trade talk because I wasn't in the area," he said, "but I guess it was just that, talk. It doesn't really matter, anyway. I can pitch in the majors and people know that now."

This time a year ago he was buried in the Orioles' blueprint. Signed as a minor-league free agent after a 10-win season at Triple A, he was viewed strictly as insurance. He got his chance after a 6-0 start at Rochester and made the most of it. Now, as Yogi might have said, all he has to do is do it again.

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