ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Johnny Oates had an off-season wish list that was very basic. "Pitching . . . more pitching . . . and more pitching," was his request.
After 11 untidy exhibition games what the Orioles manager has seen has been less pitching . . . even less pitching . . . and even less pitching. To say that nobody has stepped forward is like saying the weather in Baltimore has been uncomfortable this winter.
A little more than a third of the way through the preseason schedule, the Orioles still are trying to find a way to get the other team out.
There actually were three encouraging performances here yesterday, but one came from a rookie (Rick Forney) who is pitching for the future. And the other two solid efforts, by starter Alan Mills and closer Lee Smith, were offset by two less than sterling outings.
One, by rookie left-hander Rick Krivda, was relatively meaningless because he, too, is more of a long-range rather than short-term prospect. The other, however, came from veteran Todd Frohwirth, who is bidding to reclaim the bullpen job he has held for the past three years.
The submarining right-hander says he has no doubt he'll find a spot on the Orioles' staff. He is banking that his track record will carry more weight than his struggles this spring.
Oates said his decisions on the pitching staff will be based on the entire spring, not just the final weeks. And, while he agreed Frohwirth has an advantage because he is a known quantity, the manager left the definite impression that spring training results will be a prime consideration.
"I'm going to look at the whole picture," said Oates. "These games will have a bearing and so will the ones later.
"I know what Froh can do, but I'll also be looking for tendencies. And we can't keep giving up seven, eight and nine runs if we're going to be successful."
Frohwirth gave up three runs in one inning yesterday to see his spring ERA skyrocket to 12.71. His stay on the mound was marked by rookie catcher Mike Lieberthal's two-run homer and a losing debate with home-plate umpire Drew Coble that might have cost him the third run.
After loudly questioning two calls while issuing a bases-loaded walk, Frohwirth said he was the victim of a shrinking strike zone. A visit from Oates to Frohwirth and Coble seemed to defuse the situation, but it was another chapter in a trying spring for the Orioles.
"What was frustrating about it [his one-inning outing] was that it turned out to be a waste of time," said Frohwirth. "I could never get into a count. I couldn't use all of my pitches. After Johnny talked to him, four of the next five pitches were strikes. How did that happen? Did Froh finally get straightened out?"
Frohwirth said he felt "at least seven or eight" of the pitches that were called balls should have been strikes. But, as Oates reminded him, he was fighting a losing battle.
"In my mind, the first two pitches were balls," said Oates. "I told Froh he was fighting a losing battle . . . the umpire is always going to have the last word. You can't be losing your composure."
The bottom line for Frohwirth was that yesterday became nothing more than a lost opportunity. But not one he feels will play a significant role in his effort to win one of the available jobs in the bullpen.
"If in two weeks I'm going bad, then I'll be in trouble," said Frohwirth. "But I've pitched 300 innings in the last three years [actually 298 2/3 ] and no other reliever has done that. I have a 2.71 lifetime ERA in the American League. I think 300 innings the last three years means more than 10 or 15 down here."
After not being tendered a contract by the Orioles, Frohwirth checked the market and said he decided to return for two reasons. "They had signed [Rafael] Palmeiro and [Chris] Sabo and I felt we were going to win our division," he said. "And I figured they knew what I could do."
Four National League teams expressed interest in Frohwirth -- the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Montreal Expos and Houston Astros -- and he said he came close to signing with the Giants.
"We [he and agent Adam Katz] checked out the National League first," he said. "But when the Orioles called back to see how things were going, I figured if I was going to make less than $900,000 [his salary last year] I'd rather make it in Baltimore.
"I didn't come to camp with the idea that I might not make the club. I know that last year [6-7, 3.83 ERA, 96 1/3 innings] I didn't do what Todd Frohwirth did the previous two years, but it wasn't bad."
At this point Frohwirth is counting on the big picture. But he's realistic enough to understand that the latest picture isn't totally clear.
Sooner or later the "what have you done lately" syndrome comes into play and Todd Frohwirth knows it's got to be better than what has transpired thus far.