Pennington out Benitez demoted

June 09, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,Sun Staff Writer

Shaken rookie reliever Armando Benitez, who packed his equipment and talked of returning to the Dominican Republic after giving up a grand slam to Edgar Martinez on Wednesday night, was demoted to Triple-A Rochester yesterday morning. But everybody expects he'll be back, perhaps before the end of the season.

Reliever Brad Pennington is gone, too, designated for assignment; he'll likely be traded. But after he fired verbal bombs at manager Phil Regan and Regan answered in kind, rest assured the left-hander won't return to the Orioles.

To take their places, the Orioles called up veteran relievers Terry Clark, a right-hander, and Mark Lee, a left-hander.

Pennington, 26, looked good in spring training and Regan talked about his potential. He pitched in the first two games of the season, and then a chicken-and-egg situation developed. He didn't pitch much, and when he did, he didn't pitch effectively.

Pennington's final numbers: 11 walks and 10 strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings, yielding three hits but six earned runs. He once went two weeks without an appearance, pitching four times after May 6.

Pennington talked with Orioles general manager Roland Hemond Sunday and said he wanted to pitch more. On Tuesday, Regan spoke with Pennington during batting practice; Pennington said the manager was unhappy that he went to Hemond, rather than speak to Regan.

By Wednesday, Orioles officials determined it would be best to trade Pennington, who is out of options and cannot be sent to the minor leagues without being exposed to waivers.

Hemond gave Pennington the news yesterday morning in Regan's office -- he was being designated for assignment, and the Orioles have 10 days to trade him. When Pennington emerged from the office, he was full of fire.

"When I get traded," Pennington said, "it'll be the greatest thing that ever happened to me, and if it's to an American League team, I'm going to stick it [to the Orioles]. It's going to be another [Curt] Schilling and [Steve] Finley trade."

Pennington complimented pitching coach Mike Flanagan, but criticized Regan for not using him and not being more communicative.

Pennington said he enjoyed playing for the Orioles, and wished the organization well. "I hope the Orioles feel the same way about me," he said, "and not hope I do bad so Roland doesn't look bad.

"I just hope when they try to trade me, they don't ask for Andy Benes or something like that."

In the meeting in Regan's office, Pennington said, "Roland did all the talking. I didn't even look at Phil. He stood up and said 'Good luck.' I don't think he has a whole lot to say."

Oh, yes. The manager had lots to say when told of Pennington's comments.

"I guess I've had my fill of guys who blamed everybody but themselves," Regan said. "You look at a guy who has never had a winning record. He's never had a winning year. Never.

"He's 20-40 in his [professional] career. He's gotten 500 innings, walked 500 guys. He's never improved. He's pitched six innings this year and walked 11 men.

"He wants to be a closer. There are maybe people who think I'm an idiot, but I'm not that big of an idiot. I'll tell you this: We've tried to move him, and nobody's knocking down the door to take him. . . . His record speaks for itself. It's time he looked in the mirror.

"I'm tired of talking about Brad Pennington."

But several minutes later, after thinking about what Pennington said about the lack of communication -- manager and player have spoken twice in the last month -- Regan added this:

"Mike Flanagan has probably spent more time with Brad Pennington than with anybody on the staff, and if that's not communication, I don't know what is. I'm not here to hold his hand. He signed a contract to pitch. Pitch.

"I signed a contract to manage, not to babysit him."

Hemond has talked to several clubs about Pennington in the past week, and was making calls yesterday morning. The Montreal Expos, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets and San Diego Padres are known to have interest in Pennington. Hemond said he expected a deal could be completed in the next few days.

Pennington spent part of the morning packing his stuff, but Benitez had done that the night before, after giving up the Edgar Martinez grand slam and then being ejected for hitting the subsequent batter, Tino Martinez, with a fastball. Benitez had to be pulled away from fighting Martinez, and then when he went into the clubhouse he asked an attendant to pack his belongings for him.

Benitez told several teammates he was leaving the team, going home to the Dominican Republic to see family; he had done the same thing last year, after blowing a save for Double-A Bowie.

Regan and Flanagan tried to calm him down Wednesday night. Yesterday morning, Hemond and assistant general manager Frank Robinson met with Benitez and told him he's being sent to the minors to regain his confidence. Benitez flew to Rochester, N.Y., yesterday afternoon, and Hemond said he expected Benitez to remain with the Red Wings.

"I've seen it happen with players before," Hemond said. "We talked to him and encouraged him not to make a rash decision that he will regret later."

Benitez is 22, throws the ball extremely hard and had an extraordinary track record in the minors. The one great unknown about him before this season began was how he would handle adversity. What would he do if he got hit around? How would he pitch the day after getting hit hard? How would he handle the hard times that are inevitable for all players?

"He didn't react very well to it," Regan said. "I think one of the things he needs to do is go back down [to the minors] and get his confidence back."

Flanagan said: "He'll be back. We were asking a lot of a 22-year-old from the beginning."

First baseman Rafael Palmeiro talked to Benitez before he departed yesterday. "I really do think he'll be back," Palmeiro said. "He's too talented and means too much to this team not to be back."

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