Orioles put Swift high on wish list

November 03, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

He ranks at the top of major-league pitchers in terms of ground ball-to-fly ball ratio and near the top in ERA and winning percentage.

Those statistics help explain why San Francisco Giants right-hander Bill Swift ranks high on the Orioles' free-agent wish list.

The Orioles, Colorado Rockies and several other clubs in both leagues have made preliminary contact with Swift's agent to express interest in one of the game's top ground-ball pitchers.

Swift, 33, has come a long way since he broke into the major leagues in 1985 with the Seattle Mariners under pitching coach Phil Regan, the Orioles' new manager.

When healthy, Swift has been among the most consistent pitchers in baseball this decade. From 1990 through 1993, he ranked first among pitchers with at least 600 innings in ERA and winning percentage.

Swift went 39-19 in three seasons with the Giants. He was 8-7 with a 3.38 ERA in 17 starts in 1994. Swift won the National League ERA title in 1992 with a 2.08 mark, and won 21 games in 1993, when he finished second to Atlanta's Greg Maddux in the Cy Young Award race.

Swift pitched a career-high 232 2/3 innings in 1993 when he posted a 2.82 ERA and allowed less than a home run every 15 innings for the seventh consecutive season.

It was the only season in which Swift has surpassed 200 innings. He was used primarily as a reliever in his final three seasons in Seattle and mostly as a starter in his first three seasons with the Giants.

Durability has been Swift's biggest drawback. Since 1985, he has spent time on the disabled list with a variety of maladies: tonsillitis (1985), bone spurs in his right elbow (1987), pulled groin (1989), pulled right calf muscle (1991), right shoulder inflammation and strained right triceps (1992), pulled rib-cage muscle (1994).

But Swift has not had arm surgery since 1987, when the bone spurs were removed. His shoulder impingement of 1992 cleared up after he changed his weightlifting routine.

The Orioles have the five starters with which they finished the 1994 season (Mike Mussina, Ben McDonald, Arthur Rhodes, Sid Fernandez, and Jamie Moyer) set to return, but would like to strengthen their rotation by acquiring someone to drop into the No. 3 hole.

The Orioles also have interest in free-agent left-hander Danny Jackson, who was 14-6 with a 3.26 ERA for the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Orioles want to re-sign closer Lee Smith and would like to acquire an outfielder. The Houston Astros are shopping Luis Gonzalez, who drove in 67 runs in 112 games last season, and starting pitchers Pete Harnisch and Greg Swindell.

Considering Gonzalez had a $3.5 million salary last season and the Astros are seeking to reduce their projected 1995 payroll from $42 million to $28 million, they might decide against tendering Gonzalez a contract, which would enable the Orioles to obtain him as a free agent.

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