ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Alan Mills says his routine has been different this spring than in years past. But no, for the umpteenth time, he doesn't think that means he's being groomed as a starting pitcher.
The right-hander made his third start of the spring yesterday, a development manager Johnny Oates continually has said is insignificant. But it at least has added some intrigue in a camp where decent pitching has been more rumor than fact.
"It's been different from what I'm used to," said Mills. "But I can only do what they ask me to do. As far as I know, I'm only getting some work. I don't think anything has changed -- we have five good starters."
Asked if he felt there was any significance to his being used as a starter, Mills declined to elaborate. "I'd rather not get into that because my thinking could be way off," he said. Mills said he has not been told by Oates of any possible change in his relief role. And there is at least one indication that the Orioles aren't seriously contemplating a move.
Asked how many pitches he was relying on, Mills said: "Three -- fastball, slider and sinker."
He said the absence of any emphasis on off-speed pitches would indicate he's not being groomed as a starter. Pitching coach Dick Bosman is very big on starters changing speeds, but the feeling is that relievers should stay with a limited number of pitches -- preferably ones with high velocity.
The only deviation Mills has made revolves around his sinker, the pitch he credits with getting him through some arm problems early last year. "This is the first time I've come to camp with a game plan," he said. "I wanted to work on the sinker and a better command of my slider."
Another day, another loss
Mills allowed three unearned runs in the three innings he pitched yesterday. Errors by himself and right fielder Mike Devereaux paved the way for the runs in the third inning and the Philadelphia Phillies eventually registered a 9-7 win.
The loss was the ninth in 11 games for the Orioles.
Asked if he thought the scoring binge was being caused by pitchers using spring training to experiment, Oates dismissed the notion.
"If so, they'd better change. If I was experimenting, I think I'd stop before the bases were loaded."
Not all of the pitchers fared poorly yesterday. In addition to Mills, rookie Rick Forney and veteran Lee Smith were very effective.
Forney, of Annapolis High School, pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings in relief of rookie left-hander Rick Krivda, who walked four in 1 1/3 innings.
"We haven't had scoreless innings back-to-back too many times," Oates said of Forney's effort. "I like what I've seen of him. He makes good pitches and it looks like he knows what he's doing."
However, Oates confirmed that Forney has no chance of leaving camp with the Orioles, even if his strong spring continues.
"He'd go to Triple-A [Rochester] where he can pitch regularly," said Oates. "He's been very impressive, but he's at a stage where he needs to pitch."
Smith pitched the ninth inning. For the first time in four appearances he didn't allow a base runner.
The big right-hander struck out two of the three hitters, using a sharp slider in each instance. "The No. 2 [slider] is coming around," he said.
Around the horn
Devereaux made two errors in right field, one on a fly ball that was slicing away from him toward the foul line, the other when he booted a line drive hit into the right-center field gap. Later, however, Devereaux ran a long way to track down a drive at the warning track.
Leo Gomez drove in three runs with a bases-loaded double, Brady Anderson had a two-run single and Mark McLemore and Harold Baines both had run-producing singles.
Arthur Rhodes will be the starting pitcher tonight, when the Orioles face the Cincinnati Reds.
Opponent: Cincinnati Reds
Site: St. Petersburg, Fla.