Count on work for bullpen, with starters limited


April 20, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

By Alan Mills' count, it won't take much to drop his ERA below its current stratospheric 18.00.

"All I need to get it down to 2.00 is 32 innings without a run. I can do that," said Mills. "If I get just five, I cut it in half."

It's not as if Mills and the other five relievers who make up the Baltimore bullpen won't get the work necessary to lower their ERAs.

Orioles manager Johnny Oates said he intends to keep the starting pitchers more closely to a pitch count than he has in the past.

Oates so far has shown no hesitation in going to his relievers early and often.

Each of the relievers has made at least three appearances in the first 12 games, while Mills has made six and Jim Poole, Mark Eichhorn and Lee Smith have each made seven appearances.

"Poole's appearances have been short and Eichhorn's the kind of guy who can pitch often," said Oates, who last night used Poole for the fourth straight game and Smith for the fourth in the past five. "When he was pitching every other day, that's when he was at his best."

"You don't expect the starters to pitch that much this time of the year," said Poole. "We come in expecting a lot of work this early. The last couple of years, Ben [McDonald], Moose [Mike Mussina] and Sut [former Oriole Rick Sutcliffe] threw a lot of innings early. That was more abnormal than what you're seeing."

The workload in those games, though, has been heavy. Williamson, for instance, threw 51 pitches in 3 1/3 innings in Sunday's win over Texas. And Smith threw 15 pitches to earn the save Sunday, just one night after throwing 30.

"I've never had this much success this early in the season because the teams that I played with didn't play worth a damn," said Smith, who notched his seventh save in as many tries with 10 pitches last night.

So far, the bullpen isn't dead, but outside of Smith, the relievers have been spotty, amassing a combined 7.24 ERA.

If Smith's numbers (no earned runs in six innings) are taken out of the mix, the bullpen's ERA rises to 9.28, but at this time of the year, one bad performance can artificially boost an ERA.

"That makes it tough, when you get off to a bad start," said Poole. "You have to take it in small chunks, so that you don't bury yourself."

Oates said the relievers will have to tell him when they need a break, though he and pitching coach Dick Bosman can usually figure out who has been overworked.

The only concession Oates will grant is to use Smith only in save situations.

"I know how Smitty feels about getting work on days off," said Oates. "I caught him in the bullpen in Chicago [with the Cubs] when the call would come in with the score 11-0. He was not happy. I am not going to agitate him by telling him he needs the work."

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