Higuera flashes old form for O's Regan impressed

March 05, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,Sun Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Former Milwaukee Brewers ace Ted Higuera was serious about his tryout with the Orioles yesterday -- there was no doubt about that. He paid his way to get here from Mexico and arrived trim and eager, ready to partake in all the mindless drills, even shagging fly balls.

All that enthusiasm, Orioles pitching coach Mike Flanagan was saying, doesn't mean anything if you can't pitch anymore. But if you can pitch and still have that vigor, that's another story.

Higuera looks as if he still can pitch: The left-hander surprised the Orioles with his control and his sharp breaking stuff in a 15-minute workout. Higuera, 36, will work out today and throw again tomorrow.

"I thought his velocity was good, he had an excellent breaking ball and his slider was really, really good," Orioles manager Phil Regan said. "If he throws well again Monday, then I think you could say we have a definite interest in him."

Regan's interest was obvious yesterday, his physical actions speaking volumes. When reliever Gregg Olson threw Friday, Regan stood behind the pitcher passively, watching but not participating. He chatted with Olson briefly and went about his business.

Regan became much more involved with Higuera. After just a few pitches, Regan took off his cap -- a little like rolling up his sleeves -- and started making suggestions to Higuera on the tilt of his back during his delivery. Higuera responded with a couple of low, sharp sliders and thanked Regan, who nodded his head.

Regan changed his vantage point several times, watching Higuera's delivery from the side, from behind bullpen catcher Elrod Hendricks. For Higuera's final dozen pitches, sliders and fastballs that zipped over the corners about knee high, Regan stood in the batter's box, first as a left-handed hitter -- "Wade Boggs!" Higuera yelled, laughing -- and then as a right-handed hitter.

Sweat shining on his neck and face, Higuera walked off the mound and Regan talked with him for a minute or so, his head bobbing. Regan appeared impressed and intrigued.

Before tearing his rotator cuff, Higuera was one of the best pitchers in the American League, winning 69 games over four years, from 1985 to '88. Known throughout the league as one of the toughest competitors, Higuera attacked hitters with the ferocity of a pit bull.

But his shoulder began to bother him in the spring of 1991, and since undergoing shoulder surgery that summer, he has won two games in the big leagues. The Brewers, who had invested millions in Higuera, released him last fall.

Higuera pitched effectively in Mexico during the winter, and a friend of Regan's who saw Higuera called to tell him so. Maybe, Regan said, the little left-hander's shoulder is finally healed.

Regan said he is thinking of what another left-hander could mean to the Orioles against teams loaded with left-handed hitters such as the New York Yankees. Higuera could be added to the rotation, or perhaps used out of the bullpen. Regan needs an experienced left-hander in his bullpen.

Higuera? Maybe.

"That's why it's important for us to find out if his arm is healthy," Regan said. "He's got great heart. He's got all the money he needs, but he wants to play for a winner. And he wants to play for Baltimore."

That could be wishful thinking on Regan's part. Higuera said he had no idea where he will sign -- and, Higuera added, he won't sign until after the strike is over. He has tentative plans to work out for the Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres.

"I want to pitch in the World Series," Higuera said. "I want to pitch for a winner."

Signing Higuera shouldn't be too expensive. He said he wants a straight-salaried contract, rather than one loaded with incentives, but he might not have much choice. Pitchers with two wins over the past three seasons don't wield much in the way of negotiating leverage.

Regan and Flanagan will watch Higuera closely today, checking if he has some soreness or ill-effects from his bullpen session. The big test comes tomorrow, another 15 minutes in the bullpen with everybody waiting to see if the slider still has that edge and Higuera still nicks the corners.

Higuera? Maybe.

NOTE: Orioles owner Peter Angelos will attend the owners meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., later this week.

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