O's fear a Benitez arm blowout

BASEBALL

August 21, 1994|By TOM KEEGAN

Armando Benitez, the Orioles' top pitching prospect, showed before the strike that he has what it takes to become a major-league closer. But as baseball's all-time saves leader, Lee Smith, and others have pointed out, he also showed poor pitching mechanics.

Yes, he has the stuff to save games, but is he a blowout waiting to happen?

Orioles officials don't deny that Benitez slings the ball, thus putting stress on his arm. The question is what to do about it. The answer is to try to change him subtly and gradually.

"You can't change them too dramatically too early or they won't be effective," Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said. "He'll go through different stages to whereby he'll adjust as he goes along. He'll recognize what he has to do to put less stress on his arm. Some people said Rich Gossage might not last a long time because of the way he threw. Twenty-three years later, he's still pitching."

The same observations were made about Cincinnati Reds closer Rob Dibble, who blew out his rotator cuff and has a career in jeopardy. That's why the Orioles are not in denial about Benitez.

"People will work with him and he'll make the changes," Hemond said.

Gradually, not drastically.

"If somebody changed Stan Musial because he had a strange stance, they probably would have ruined him," Hemond said. "You have to be careful you don't overreact too soon on any player."

Cutting the wrong corners

The Reds are among the clubs that have canceled Instructional League to cut costs and combat the loss of revenue during the players' strike. Penny-wise, pound-foolish thinking.

Meanwhile, infielders Casey Candaele and Kurt Stillwell are earning $300,000 apiece at Triple-A Indianapolis, where they have been all season. The Reds could have saved money by calling them up before the strike. Instead, they are saving money by cutting back on player development.

Other organizations skipping Instructional League play to save money include Boston, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Texas, Houston, Pittsburgh and San Diego.

Those that have not scratched participation in developmental play include Atlanta, Cleveland, Toronto and Montreal. It's no coincidence that all four organizations have strong reputations for developing talent.

As of two years ago, the Orioles opted to have an early camp before spring training, instead of participating in the fall Instructional League.

"We haven't discussed cutting that back at all," Hemond said. "We've found players reporting to early camp have a great deal of enthusiasm and are eager to play. We found sometimes in Instructional League the players would go because they think that's what you want them to do."

Reds head for player losses

The Reds will trim back their budget by letting a flock of free agents go at season's end. Pitchers Tom Browning and Dibble, catcher Joe Oliver, infielder Tony Fernandez and outfielder Kevin Mitchell are eligible for free agency at season's end. If the strike wipes out the season, the Reds are expected to let all of them go.

The careers of Dibble and Oliver are in jeopardy. Dibble, not known for being the hardest-working man in show business, has made a poor recovery from rotator cuff surgery. He appeared in six Triple-A games during an injury rehabilitation assignment and went 0-2 with a 22.85 ERA, allowing 15 base runners (10 on walks) and 11 earned runs in 4 1/3 innings.

Oliver suffers from Reiter's Syndrome, an arthritic condition.

Managers on the move

Montreal Expos coach Tim Johnson, a former minor-league manager in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, remains the leading candidate to replace Boston Red Sox manager Butch Hobson after Hobson is fired at season's end. . . . Sparky Anderson's job status is uncertain in Detroit, which has Reds owner Marge Schott considering bringing Anderson back to Cincinnati as manager. Schott, it seems, still has not forgiven Reds manager Davey Johnson for living with his second wife before he married her. In the event that Schott does not rehire Johnson, add the former Orioles second baseman's name to the list of candidates to succeed Johnny Oates if he is fired by the Orioles. . . . If Johnson leaves the Reds and Anderson is not available, Reds third base coach Ray Knight would get the job.

Quotable

"I'm not even going to lift a baseball bat unless it's to swing at any owner I see."

-- Reds shortstop Barry Larkin on not working out during the strike.

Line shots

* The Seattle Mariners won 10 of 11 before the strike, moving within two games of the Texas Rangers in the AL West. Consider this scenario: The Mariners open the playoffs against the Chicago White Sox and use Wrigley Field as their home field.

* Tony Gwynn only needs one week of games to have enough plate appearances to qualify for a full season. He has 475 and needs 502. If he got 27 more at-bats, he would have to go 13-for-27 to hit .400.

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