School Of Hard Knocks

May 13, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- The bruise is almost gone now, though it's still easy to tell where the line drive struck Brad Pennington, rebuilding Rochester Red Wings reliever.

It nailed him on the left temple. Sent him to the ground, where he stayed motionless for what seemed like forever to those at hushed Silver Stadium.

A few minutes later, Pennington walked off the mound without assistance and headed for the hospital for a few hours. Five days later, he was back on the mound for Rochester.

"Horrible," Pennington said of the experience. "A quarter of an inch over and I would have crushed the bones in my eye socket. A half-inch back and I possibly could have had some [internal] bleeding."

Lucky hasn't been a word often used in association with Brad Pennington this season.

No one called him lucky when he came into the game against Seattle at Camden Yards with the bases loaded and Ken Griffey at the plate April 24. Wild pitch. Eutaw Street home run. Demotion to Triple-A, a 12.00 ERA and 7-for-8 failure rate against left-handed hitters in tow.

Pennington did consider himself fortunate to have former Orioles left-hander Mike Flanagan sitting next to him on the flight to Rochester.

"It was nice to hear him tell me about what he went through," Pennington said. "It was similar to what I'm going through now. He was mad in '76 when he came down and he thought he should be in the big leagues. He looked at himself as being a major-league pitcher pitching in Triple-A. And that's how I look at myself. He went down with the attitude he would pitch so well he wouldn't give them any choice but to bring him back up."

Flanagan, a part-time minor-league instructor, spent three days working with Pennington in Rochester. He didn't like the delivery he saw and suggested subtle changes.

"He was throwing harder without all the effort," Flanagan said of the Pennington he saw after their sessions in Rochester. "His arm was on more of a free ride. He was a candidate for surgery the way he was going before."

Said Pennington: "Definitely, the way I'm doing it now will put less strain on my arm. I'm throwing harder with less effort."

Yellow and red reminders from the bruise on Pennington's temple remain. As for the psychological bruises from the Griffey home run and the rough opening month in general, only time will tell.

"He's not afraid to take the ball, even after what he went through up here," Orioles assistant general manager Doug Melvin said. "People kept asking me how did he handle it? He handled it like a true professional."

Pennington has pitched seven innings for Rochester since the demotion and has allowed five hits and five walks. He has 10 strikeouts and a 2.57 ERA.

"He has to get some consistency throwing strikes," Orioles manager Johnny Oates said. "Throw it where he wants to throw it, when he wants to throw it there. Big-league hitters don't chase pitches. In the minor leagues, they are intimidated by him a little, I think. Big-league hitters aren't intimidated."

Said Pennington: "I used to be happy if I struck a guy out with a pitch that wasn't where it's supposed to be. Now I'm not."

Flanagan, for one, has not given up on Pennington, who pitched one scoreless inning against the Orioles last night, striking out two with a walk and Sherman Obando double.

"Now he realizes he no longer is the 20-year-old phenom," Flanagan said. "He knows he can't just throw it by people now. He's started the transition from a thrower to a pitcher. It's a question of getting that notion out of his mind. He's been hailed as a closer for so long and he hasn't thrown enough innings. He pitched more innings in his first 1 1/2 years in pro ball than in his last four."

Melvin points to Montreal's John Wetteland as an example of how a club can live to regret giving up prematurely on a power pitcher as the Dodgers did on Wetteland.

"You have to be patient," Melvin said. "Hard-throwing left-handers are hard to come by."

Throwing hard all the time is what the Orioles want him to avoid.

"We want to take the closer mentality away from him right now so he can work on the things we want him to work on," Melvin said. "We want him to become more of a pitcher."

"He reminds me of a left-hander I had at Columbus," said former Orioles manager and current Rochester GM Joe Altobelli. "Young guy named Dave Righetti. He was wild, too. Most young guys are."

ORIOLES TONIGHT

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: The Metrodome, Minneapolis

Time: 8:05

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL(1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Ben McDonald (7-0, 3.08) vs. Twins' Pat Mahomes (2-1, 6.12)

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