Orioles aren't alone in their pitching worries

April 12, 1994|By Bill Tanton

One week does not a season make, and neither do a half-dozen baseball games.

But this mini-sampling has provided some interesting insights to what lies ahead for the Orioles and the rest of the big leagues this year.

One of these -- the Orioles' 7-4 win in Detroit yesterday notwithstanding -- is that the Orioles are going to be playing a lot of 8-7 and 7-5 ballgames, and probably some 10-8 games as well.

That probably would be OK with most Baltimore fans as long as the Orioles have the greater number of runs.

Slugfests are all right except for two things.

With games already running too long (yesterday's was 3:14; Sunday's here was 3:40), they'll now run even longer.

Also, there's concern that the Orioles too often will be the ones with the lesser number of runs.

"When it's all said and done," Orioles manager Johnny Oates said as the season opened, "after we get our pitching straightened out things are going to be fine."

Pitching is still the trouble with this ballclub in spite of the strong performance yesterday by Ben McDonald, who had a one-hitter going into the eighth inning.

The Orioles are by no means alone. Clubs all over the big leagues are desperate for pitching. It seems to get worse every year, especially since the latest expansion.

The commissioner's office reported yesterday that there were 58 more home runs in the first week of this season than in the first week of '93.

The Cubs' Karl Rhodes hit homers in his first three at-bats Opening Day -- something never before accomplished.

Oriole Mike Devereaux's first three hits were home runs.

Last weekend, the Orioles and Texas hit 12 home runs, a Camden Yards record for a three-game series.

For the first time in a decade, the Orioles homered in all of their first five games. Actually, they homered twice in each.

The local nine is doing plenty of hitting and scoring, but so are some of the clubs they will have to beat out in the American League East -- especially two-time defending world champion Toronto.

When Blue Jays World Series hero Joe Carter broke his thumb on March 23, it was announced that he would not be ready for the opener. A blow like that would be a damaging one to the Jays, right?

Wrong.

Not only was Carter in the lineup on Opening Day, in his first six games he had four home runs and 12 RBIs.

Carter, who has driven in 100 or more runs in seven of the past eight seasons (98 in the other one), is only one of many outstanding hitters with the Blue Jays.

The core of the Toronto club is still there -- John Olerud, Roberto Alomar, Devon White, and a man who, at the age of 37, is finally gaining the recognition he has long deserved. That's Paul Molitor, who played in relative obscurity all those years in Milwaukee.

Ted Williams, in an ESPN interview with Peter Gammons before Ted suffered his recent stroke, said some amazing things about Molitor.

"Molitor is absolutely a great hitter," Williams said. "He's one of the best I've ever seen. Every time I look at him and that swing I see Joe DiMaggio."

To be sure, the Orioles are going to need a lot of quality pitching to beat out a club like the Blue Jays, and their pitching is not that deep.

Mike Mussina is 2-0. So is Ben McDonald. No one else has a win.

Jamie Moyer still is proving himself. Sid Fernandez, on rehab, pitches for Rochester tonight against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and is scheduled to start for the Orioles Sunday in Texas. Arthur Rhodes in his first start walked the first two men he faced and lasted only three innings.

Obviously, the pitching is not straightened out yet.

Those who thought Toronto pitcher Dave Stewart would tail off this year at age 37 are altering their opinions after a week. Stewart is 2-0. He's probably good for a dozen victories, which is what he had last year.

Toronto is the first club in this century to have hitters finish 1-2-3 in the batting race. Last year John Olerud hit .362, Molitor .332, Alomar .326.

Still, even the Blue Jays will need good pitching to three-peat.

The best bet in the majors to repeat is Atlanta, with its $16 million pitching staff of Greg Maddux, Steve Avery, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. Already the Braves are 7-0.

As if the Braves needed another ace, their lefty Kent Mercker, who can't crack the starting rotation, tossed a no-hitter last Friday against the Dodgers.

The Orioles spent more than $40 million to improve their offense and in that they have succeeded.

But the oldest cliche in the game still applies: you win with pitching and defense. You can't slug your way into the postseason.

There's nothing wrong with the Orioles' defense. There won't be as long as Cal Ripken anchors it.

Despite the fast starts of Mussina and McDonald, the Orioles remain a little short in the pitching department. They're likely to remain so unless they add at least one high quality pitcher.

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