Bullpen's relief has been limited

SIDELIGHT

April 14, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

DETROIT -- Mike Mussina and Lee Smith were hit hard during spring training. Ben McDonald missed his final exhibition start to rest a tender elbow.

Uncertainty about the top two starters in the rotation and the closer were cause for concern heading into the Orioles' most eagerly anticipated season in years.

One week into the season, those three pitchers are a combined 4-0 with a 2.15 ERA and three saves in three opportunities.

L So all the Orioles' pitching worries are behind them, right?

Not so fast.

Subtract Mussina, McDonald and Smith from the equation and the Orioles are left with seven pitchers who are a combined 0-3 with a 7.71 ERA.

Orioles manager Johnny Oates has called upon a reliever 18 times for 17 2/3 innings in seven games. The shakier the back of a starting rotation, the more vital the need for quality relief.

In both areas, it has been a case of so far, so-so for the Orioles. The six-man bullpen has combined for a 6.62 ERA.

The numbers are deceivingly inflated considering Alan Mills has worked out of two jams left him by other pitchers and has a 13.50 ERA, thanks to allowing two home runs later in the appearances.

Still, the overall figures are less than comforting.

Nothing has happened in the first week of the season to stop Orioles general manager Roland Hemond from joining most of his colleagues in searching for pitching help of both the starting and relieving variety.

Mark Eichhorn, who received his Toronto Blue Jays World Series ring at Tiger Stadium, had little else to celebrate yesterday.

Oates called upon Eichhorn with the Orioles trailing 4-2 in the seventh.

Eichhorn walked Juan Samuel, allowed a two-run home run to Eric Davis and a single to Cecil Fielder before striking out Travis Fryman to end the inning with the Orioles now four runs behind.

"He stayed hard today," Oates said of Eichhorn. "When he changes speeds a lot, he has a lot of success."

In five appearances covering four innings, Eichhorn (0-1, 9.00) has allowed eight hits and three walks.

Yogi Berra, baseball's most famous butcher of the English language, once said: "You ain't got a bullpen, you ain't got nothing."

Oates is far from feeling that way about the Orioles, who have three right-handers (Eichhorn, Mills and Mark Williamson) and two left-handers (Brad Pennington and Jim Poole) in front of HTC Smith.

"All you can do is keep sending them out there," Oates said. "Overall, I think they've been pretty good actually, if you look at it.

"Willy gave up two runs in four innings the other day, that's all you can ask for. Poole gave up a couple on Opening Day, but he's been fine his other two times. Pennington hasn't given up a run and Smith has three saves in three tries."

Orioles pitchers have allowed 12 home runs in the first seven games and the staff ERA stands at 5.08.

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