12-man staff may be delivery team needs

INSIDE PITCH

May 19, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

You wouldn't get a clue from the American League statistics, but the Orioles still are trying to establish some depth to their pitching staff.

So much so, in fact, that manager Johnny Oates is considering the possibility of a 12-man staff. Such a move might take place as early as Saturday, when Arthur Rhodes is expected to come off the disabled list to face the Yankees in New York. The arrangement likely would be short term, but is also a definite long-term possibility.

The Orioles have allowed the fewest walks (114), hits (303) and runs (160) in the AL. However, those numbers are primarily the result of the effectiveness of the starting pitchers.

Despite Ben McDonald's early exit last night, the starters have pitched into the seventh inning or later 26 times in the first 36 games. That has offset the early ineffectiveness of the middle relievers and accounts for the fifth lowest earned-run average (4.44) in the league.

However, even with the starters averaging 6 2/3 innings and Lee )) Smith almost perfect as the closer, the Orioles have had problems plugging the gap. Not counting Smith, who has been restricted to three or fewer outs. Orioles relievers have made 66 appearances -- and have lasted more than one inning only 14 times, three of which came last night.

Two teams with bullpen problems, the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners, already have gone to a 12-man staff -- and now the Orioles are contemplating the move, at least temporarily.

"It's a possibility, something we've thought about," Oates said last night. "It depends on what happens the next couple of days."

If Rhodes pitches Saturday as expected, the Orioles will have to make room for him on the roster. Given the left-hander's uncertain status, Oates likely will want the luxury of a backup available, which could buy Mike Oquist some more time in the big leagues.

With Damon Buford and Mark Smith seeing only token playing time, a 12th pitcher figures to be more valuable than an extra outfielder, especially with the Orioles in a stretch in which they play 22 times in 23 days. If a 12-man staff proves desirable, or necessary, for the long haul, the decision will be more difficult.

When Jeffrey Hammonds and Chris Sabo come off the disabled list, which should be within the next week to 10 days, the roster numbers game would become more complicated. That's when Oates would have to weigh the luxury of a 12th pitcher against the need for an extra bench player.

With a three-game series against the division-leading Yankees on tap for the weekend, the immediate decision may be a no-brainer.

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