Wild McDonald too rested for his own good


June 18, 1995|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

What Ben McDonald found out Friday night -- again -- is little more than a basic fact of pitching life. When it comes to the proper amount of rest between starts, five days is too much and three is not enough. At least that's the accepted theory.

The problem, however, is at least as much mental as it is physical. And, in this instance, it may have been complicated by a premature decision that had to be changed.

Manager Phil Regan would've liked McDonald to have made his last start on three days of rest, one day earlier than normal. That would've allowed the Orioles to use their three best pitchers -- Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina and McDonald -- against the power-laden Cleveland Indians.

As it turned out, the Orioles didn't score enough runs for it to matter.

After McDonald threw only 103 pitches while beating California a week ago tonight, Regan said he would come back to face the Indians four days later. That used to be normal procedure before somebody (does anybody remember who it was?) invented the five-man rotation.

It seemed like a good idea, and the right thing to do at the time. But two days later, McDonald informed Regan he didn't think his arm would bounce back that fast.

Since the rotation already had been announced, some interpreted McDonald's decision to forgo the earlier start as a way to dodge the Indians' potent lineup. Ducking certain opponents, however, hasn't been among McDonald's faults.

Using hindsight, it would have been better had Regan waited to see how McDonald reacted to his previous start before deciding to move him up a day. And, again using hindsight, it became obvious very early Friday night that McDonald would have been better off facing the Indians on insufficient rest rather than the Tigers on too much rest.

Earlier in the season, McDonald himself had said that pitching on the sixth day, rather than the fifth, left him too strong. The tendency to overthrow is natural and control becomes a rumor rather than an asset.

In the first inning against the Tigers, McDonald didn't have a clue. On two of the occasions when he did find the strike zone, the ball traveled long distances, giving the Tigers a quick 3-0 lead.

Of the first 53 pitches thrown by McDonald, only 19 were strikes. That only highlighted a first-inning intentional walk to Bobby Higginson, a .218 hitter who had been hitless in his previous 16 at-bats, and a subsequent unintentional pass to .182-hitting Ron Tingley.

It's to McDonald's credit that he managed to last until the seventh inning. The Orioles had many opportunities to win the game they eventually lost, 5-3, but how many times have you heard that line?

The hard, cruel facts are that the Orioles have lost eight of the 10 games McDonald has started this year. They are 7-13 in the 20 starts made by Mussina and McDonald, who went into the season as Nos. 1 and 2 in the rotation but now rank behind Brown, who easily has been the most consistent starter.

Considering his previous experiences, McDonald shouldn't have needed a reminder, but might have learned a lesson from his most recent experience. Given the choice between pitching with too little or too much rest, taking the former should be a no-brainer.

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