McDonald's best pitch may be walking Fielder

April 11, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

For their openers on the road, the Orioles (3-2) drew the Detroit Tigers (2-4) in their first home series of the year.

This afternoon's game was to feature a pitching matchup between Ben McDonald (1-0, 2.84) and Tim Belcher (0-1, 13.50) -- and a professional debut in his hometown for Orioles third baseman Chris Sabo.

Sabo grew up in the Detroit area, where his teenage idol was Baltimorean Al Kaline, the Hall of Famer who patrolled right field for the Tigers for two decades. His toughest assignment was getting Opening Day tickets for relatives, friends and former teammates.

Still, Sabo's task appeared easier than the one facing McDonald, who had to find a way to keep runners off base when nemesis Cecil Fielder is batting. Fielder has a .412 lifetime average against McDonald, including three homers, so if there's a base available the right-hander is inclined to give it to the Tigers slugger.

While Belcher, who was with the Chicago White Sox briefly last year, has no track record against the Orioles, McDonald has enjoyed some success against the Tigers. He was 1-1 last year, and is 4-2 for his career, but some of his experiences against the potent lineup have been forgettable.

On those occasions, Fielder has been a primary participant. Other times, his productivity has been curtailed by McDonald's ability to deal with the rest of the Tigers' lineup.

Mickey Tettleton, Travis Fryman and Alan Trammell have all taken advantage of McDonald's propensity to throw the long ball early in his career. But, for the most part, he has handled Fielder's helpers successfully.

Eric Davis and Juan Samuel are newcomers to the lineup whom McDonald has not yet fully tested, but the big right-hander has more than held his own against everybody else. Beyond Fielder, Tettleton has the best average (.250, 3-for-12), followed by Tony Phillips (.222, 4-for-18).

Fryman (2-for-14) and Trammell (1-for-7) have hit at only a .143 pace against McDonald, with Lou Whitaker (2-for-19) at .105. Milt Cuyler (0-for-9) is still looking for his first hit against McDonald, so he could be missing from the lineup.

The only Orioles with measurable numbers against Belcher are Rafael Palmeiro (2-for-11, .182) and Sabo (7-for-32, .219), both of whom faced him in the National League.

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