Fernandez starting to pay off

SIDELIGHT

April 30, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

SEATTLE -- The Orioles guaranteed left-hander Sid Fernandez $9 million over three seasons in hopes that he would stabilize their rotation and give them a solid No. 3 starter to back aces Mike Mussina and Ben McDonald.

Three starts and one victory into his Orioles career, Fernandez has fit the job description.

Fernandez, limited to less than three innings by shoulder bursitis during spring training, has improved in each of his starts for the Orioles, who went into last night's game against Seattle at the Kingdome with baseball's most rested bullpen.

Fernandez allowed three hits in 8 1/3 innings, getting the decision in the Orioles' 4-2 win over California that extended their winning streak to four games.

Going into the opener of a three-game series against the Mariners, the Orioles had used their bullpen to face two hitters in the past three games. Lee Smith faced them both and earned his 11th save.

Jim Poole, the only left-hander in the Orioles' bullpen, was not used Thursday in Anaheim for the fourth game in a row. He pitched in seven of the nine games before that. Right-hander Alan Mills appeared in six games during a nine-game stretch, then was not used the next three games, including Wednesday's.

Rookie Mike Oquist, recalled to Baltimore on Monday to replace demoted left-hander Brad Pennington, did not appear in his first four games on the roster and had not pitched in a game since starting for Triple-A Rochester last Friday. Long man Mark Williamson had his seventh consecutive day of inactivity Thursday. Mark Eichhorn, who has averaged 55 appearances in his nine-year career, did not appear for the fourth straight day.

"That's the way it always goes in this game," Orioles pitching coach Dick Bosman said. "It seems you either can't get your pitchers enough rest or you can't get them enough work. You never have that balance."

Given the choice, Bosman prefers the recent trend.

It was clear all night Thursday that Fernandez would give the bullpen another light night.

The Angels didn't get many smooth swings off Fernandez (1-0, 2.29 ERA), who allowed bases-empty home runs to Chili Davis and Chad Curtis and a bunt single to Curtis, walked two and struck out five. Fifteen outs came in the air.

The Angels looked particularly helpless against Fernandez's slow curve.

"He wasn't throwing as hard as I remember him throwing with the Mets, but his curve was better," said California manager Buck Rodgers, who saw Fernandez many times when managing Montreal.

Fernandez faced the Angels one night after California reliever Scott Lewis hit Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles on the ear flap with a fastball. He did not retaliate.

"What do you want me to do, start a war?" Fernandez said. "What happened last night was last night. Today was today. I wasn't looking for revenge. I think getting the win was all the revenge we needed."

Fernandez has limited hitters to a .147 batting average in his American League career, not terribly surprising considering that the National League batted .204 against him, lowest in the major leagues among active pitchers. Seattle's Randy Johnson's .215 average was second in the majors coming into this season.

The Orioles' strong desire to acquire a starting pitcher was enhanced when Fernandez came down with bursitis in his left shoulder during spring training, an injury that forced him to open the season on the disabled list.

Given Fernandez's return, starting pitching no longer can be considered an area of much concern. Through 21 games, the Orioles (14-7) had more reason to be concerned about their bullpen.

The starters went 12-5 with a 4.13 ERA and average start of more than 6 2/3 innings. The bullpen was 2-2 with a 7.12 ERA and 11 saves in 12 opportunities.

The recent strong performance of the rotation had Fernandez comparing these Orioles to the 1986 and 1988 New York Mets, for whom Fernandez pitched in the postseason.

"This team is very similar to those teams," Fernandez said. "We play hard every day and we have team players. [Rafael] Palmeiro, [Cal] Ripken, [Chris] Hoiles, the third baseman [Chris Sabo]. It's pretty much the same type of thing here as we had there. It would be tough to duplicate what we did in '86. I mean, we won 108 games. Nobody has done that since. But we have similar talent. Good pitching. A real tight unit."

Fernandez has no regrets about leaving the Mets, for whom he pitched for parts of 10 seasons.

"We parted on good terms," he said. "It wasn't a hostile thing. It was just time to move on for both sides."

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