Oquist sees major shot 1 out away

April 01, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Mike Oquist wasn't pitching for his baseball life here yesterday, but it was hard to ignore that his immediate future could be at stake.

All he had to do was look around the clubhouse and count the number of pitchers. This wasn't a case for a rocket scientist -- a simple mathematician would do.

The Orioles have 11 pitchers remaining. They will open the season with 10 and nine have secured their positions. That leaves Oquist and Mark Williamson available for the last spot on the staff. It's come down to youth vs. experience, a 2.75 spring training ERA (Oquist) against 2.93 (Williamson).

Williamson will make one more exhibition appearance, while Oquist is finished with the preliminaries and can only await the outcome. "You can't worry about it, but you can't not think about it either," said Oquist.

His final exhibition outing here yesterday wasn't as effective as he would have liked -- or as he had been in his previous five games. "I guess I'd give myself a C," he said when asked to grade his five-inning, four-run (three earned) performance in an 8-6 loss to the Chicago White Sox.

"My control wasn't as good as it was in my other games, and I hung a couple of curveballs."

One of those hanging pitches was lofted to left field by Dan Pasqua to drive in an unearned run in the first inning. The other was more damaging -- a two-run home run by Warren Newson, a left-handed hitter not known for such feats.

Before that, Oquist also had given up a home run to Frank Thomas, on "what I thought was a good pitch -- he just went out and got it." Thomas, of course, has been known to do that, as several Orioles pitchers can attest.

Oquist made great pitches to strike out the big first baseman with a man on third and one out in the first inning, but his pattern didn't hold up the next time through the lineup.

The performance was neither good enough nor bad enough to get him off the bubble. "He threw OK," said manager Johnny Oates, who gave no indication how he's leaning on the selection of his final pitcher.

"We'll sit down in the next couple of days and go over it," said Oates, referring to his coming meeting with his coaching staff and the front office. "Nobody will get judged solely on one game, but each game is a part of it [the decision]."

Oquist, who has shown steady improvement during the past three spring camps, appears prepared for whatever the verdict may be. "You always wonder what's going on, what they're thinking," he said. "It's tough to throw it out of your head.

"I can't say I won't be disappointed if I don't make it, because I will. I was disappointed the first year [1992] I was sent down -- even though I knew it was coming."

Whether he stays or goes back to Triple-A Rochester, Oquist has the satisfaction of knowing he's accomplished just about everything he set out to do this spring. "I feel good about this spring," he said. "I can't say I came in expecting to make the club, but I wanted to show them that I can pitch in the big leagues.

"With the signings of Sid [Fernandez], Lee [Smith] and Ike [Mark Eichhorn], there didn't seem to be any room. In a way, I think that helped me to just relax and concentrate on throwing the ball."

Oquist, 25, has done that well enough to turn what might have been an easy decision into a difficult one. Williamson, 34, who is expected to be one of several pitchers the Orioles use against the Braves today in Atlanta, also has pitched very consistently this spring. And his experience could be the deciding factor.

"You never know what's going to happen [in these situations]," said Oquist. "It's part of the game."

And it takes place every year at this time. All Oquist knows for sure is that he's going back to Baltimore with the Orioles.

He probably won't find out until Sunday whether his first Opening Day introduction in the big leagues comes this year, or is put on hold. It will be a nervous 48-hour waiting period.

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