Smith, Orioles relieved after scoreless outing

March 12, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- It's an indication of how things have been going for the Orioles that one scoreless inning was the big news yesterday.

Scoreless innings have been tough to come by this spring, especially for relief pitchers. The fact that Lee Smith, penciled in as this season's closer, was able to get three outs without allowing a run was the goods-news part.

The bad-news side of the story is that the Orioles wasted their best-pitched game of the spring, losing a 2-1, 10-inning decision to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Jamie Moyer, Mark Eichhorn and Jim Poole turned in solid pitching performances for the Orioles, but it was Smith who commanded most of the attention. The big guy had been raked for five hits and five earned runs in 1 2/3 innings in his previous two appearances.

"I would say I'm a little behind where I normally am at this stage," said Smith. "That last month [before he signed] was kind of hectic. I was traveling around, taking physicals so people could see I didn't have anything broken, and I didn't have the time to do what I usually do."

What Smith usually does in the off-season is spend a lot of time swimming, rather than running. "I don't like to bang on the bTC knees," he said, "so I swim a lot."

Smith said the absence of those workouts has restricted his arm strength. "That's what I've been working on," he said. "I've been doing a lot of work with weights, nothing heavy, nothing more than 15 pounds, and I'm starting to notice a difference.

"This was the best I've felt," he said after yesterday's game. "I had some pop on my fastball, and I'm feeling more comfortable now."

With a record 401 career saves, the only thing for Smith to prove is that he hasn't lost it, as some suggested a year ago. He's been trying to do that.

"My slider was awful last year," he said. "That's why I gave up 11 home runs. I've been working hard on it this spring, getting my arm on top rather than on the side.

"But I've been trying to make perfect pitches, and all that's done is put more pressure on myself. When you're with a new team, you want to do good -- you want to show people that I can have good stuff, that I can still get guys out.

"I never questioned myself, but my wife got on my case," quipped Smith. "She thought her shopping time was going to get cut short.

"I was putting pressure on myself. I know better, but it's easier said than done.

"Johnny [manager Johnny Oates] said to me after my second game [Tuesday against Toronto]: 'It's like fine wine. It'll come around in time.' I told him it better hurry up."

Smith was hardly flawless yesterday. He gave up a two-out double to Brett Butler in the seventh, and leadoff hitter Mitch Webster crushed a long foul on his first pitch that drifted foul before going over the right-field fence. "He [Webster] was cheating on me," said Smith. "I threw him a fastball in, and he was pulling out and turning on it.

"I threw some good forkballs and felt like I had better action with my slider," said Smith.

The slider has become Smith's out pitch, and pitching coach Dick Bosman thinks that his problems might have come from poor arm position. "It's a pitch that has to have some tilt to it," said Bosman. "He needs to bring his arm over the top, instead of letting it drop down."

Oates said that he was unconcerned about Smith's first two outings.

"It's just a matter of location," said the manager. "He wasn't missing by much the other day. He'll be OK."

And so, perhaps, will the Orioles if they can ever mesh their pitching and offense. They got four strong and scoreless innings from Moyer yesterday, and Poole allowed one hit while striking out three in the two innings he worked.

Since giving up seven runs in one-third of an inning in his first game, Poole has pitched four straight scoreless innings in his past two performances.

However, for the first time this spring, the Orioles failed to generate any offense. By the time the day was over, they had two more losses, dropping their record to 2-7. In Homestead, Fla., the split squad that faced the Florida Marlins got neither hitting nor pitching in a 10-1 loss.

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