For Twins, pitching is light at the end of the tunnel Trade for Rodriguez starts to look good

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

April 15, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

The Minnesota Twins won't win the American League Central. They probably won't compete for the AL wild-card spot.

But for the first time in several years, the Twins have some hope for the future, and it lies in their starting pitching. Minnesota right-hander Frankie Rodriguez became only the second pitcher to beat the Orioles yesterday, allowing just three hits and a run in 7 2/3 innings.

"He made some good pitches when he needed to," said Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar. "He pitched a great game."

Shortstop Cal Ripken said, "He's a good big-league pitcher. He's got good stuff."

That's what the Twins thought when they acquired Rodriguez from the Boston Red Sox as part of the Rick Aguilera deal. Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan has been criticized for his trade with the Orioles last July, swapping pitcher Scott Erickson for Scott Klingenbeck and outfielder Kimera Bartee.

But the Rodriguez-Aguilera deal is looking good, particularly in light of the fact that the Twins re-signed Aguilera during the off-season. Rodriguez earned his first major-league victory against the Orioles last July 20, and he pitched effectively for most of spring training, allowing just seven earned runs in 32 innings.

However, in his first two starts of 1996, Rodriguez struggled to get through the third inning -- he allowed six runs in the third inning of his first start, four runs in the third inning of his second start.

Rodriguez, a No. 1 pick of Boston in 1990, retired the Orioles in order in the first two innings yesterday, but he thought about his first two starts as he walked to the mound to pitch the third, as he admitted later. "I want to say [I didn't]," Rodriguez said. "I really want to say no. But I can't. It was in the back of my mind."

Rodriguez held the Orioles hitless in the third; he didn't allow his first hit until Brady Anderson doubled to open the fourth, and VTC with a couple double plays, he pitched into the seventh.

"That was just what we needed," said Minnesota manager Tom Kelly. "Frankie carried the load. That was sort of what we saw in spring training."

Mills set to throw tomorrow

Alan Mills is drawing closer and closer to returning to action, as he rebounds from shoulder trouble. Mills will throw 12 minutes in the bullpen tomorrow, and assuming he suffers no setbacks, he will pitch to hitters in batting practice Friday in Texas.

"If he's OK after that," said pitching coach Pat Dobson, "from there we'll send him out and let him pitch [in a minor-league assignment]."

The way Mills is progressing, he could be activated by late this month or early in May.

The starting seven

Seven position players have started every game for the Orioles, but in the near future manager Davey Johnson intends to begin using his bench more and resting his regulars. "With the exception of Cal [Ripken]," Johnson said. "Jeffrey [Hammonds] is not one I'm planning to rest a whole lot. Jeffrey is going to think he's my ironman by the time this [season] is over. I'm definitely impressed with his concentration level and his work ethic."

In some ways, Johnson said, Hammonds is "still a rookie. He's expressing his talent now over a full season."

Hammonds broke into the majors in 1993, but injuries limited him to 158 games his first three years.

Around the horn

Mike Mussina will pitch with five days' rest against Boston this week, rather than his usual four. The Orioles' rotation in the three-game series that starts Tuesday will be David Wells, Erickson and Mussina, matched up against Roger Clemens, Aaron Sele and Jamie Moyer. . . . Johnson intends to play golf today, the Orioles' last off-day until May. "My wife was saying, 'Oh, we could spend the day together tomorrow,' " Johnson said. "Wrong. I'm going to tee it up, take [Andy] Etchebarren and try to hustle him." . . . Orioles relievers pitched 4 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run yesterday, and now in 28 2/3 innings, they've allowed one earned run -- an 0.32 ERA. . . . Catcher Chris Hoiles went 0-for-3, his batting average falling to .100. "I don't know when it's going to come around," said Hoiles.

Pub Date: 4/15/96

Going great late

The Orioles actually have been only a fair offensive team in the first six innings, batting just .251. But in innings seven through nine, they've been extraordinary, the reason for their four come-from-behind victories -- they're batting .327:

Innings ... AB .... R .... H .... HR .... AB per HR .... Avg.

1 to 6 .... 243 ... 30 ... 61 ... 8 ..... 30.4 ......... .251

7 to 9 .... 113 ... 23 ... 37 ... 7 ..... 16.1 ......... .327

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