Bullpen's steadiness is relief to Johnson Orosco has clamped down since debacle vs. Texas

Orioles Notebook

June 23, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

Orioles manager Davey Johnson said he's felt very comfortable handing the ball over to his relievers lately.

Lefty Jesse Orosco is a big part of the reason why Johnson is at ease these days. Orosco has been brilliant since getting bombed by the Texas Rangers on consecutive nights in April. Twelve of the 15 earned runs allowed by Orosco this year were scored in those two outings.

The lefty has a 1.37 ERA in the 19 2/3 innings he's pitched besides the Texas baseball massacre.

Orosco has given up runs in just one run in his last 17 outings dating to April 25, but his season ERA still stands at 6.14.

"I'm just trying to chip away at the ERA," Orosco said. "I want to make it look like that Texas series never happened. Those two games just got away. I don't like to take that long to get going, but that's the way it was this year."

The Orioles' bullpen is coming together. Roger McDowell has been solid all season with a 2.44 ERA and only 18 walks in 48 innings pitched.

Arthur Rhodes (8-0) is pitching better than ever. His seven straight wins out of the bullpen are the third best by an Orioles reliever. He has a 3.45 ERA out of the bullpen this year. His previous best was 1991 when he went 7-5 with a 3.63 ERA as a starter.

Kent Mercker was sent to the bullpen earlier this week and was available to pitch in relief yesterday. Mercker had not thrown since his last start on Tuesday.

"It shouldn't be that big of an adjustment back to the bullpen," Mercker said. "I haven't done it in a while, but I don't foresee it being a problem."

More focus, less errors

The improved pitching has had a noticeable effect on nearly all aspects of the Orioles play.

Games are moving at a much brisker pace and as a result, the players' concentration is greater. So, fielding mishaps and mental errors are fewer.

"I would say that if pitchers are doing a good job throwing strikes, then the game moves more quickly," Rafael Palmeiro said. "Then the game is played better. You're more mentally into the game."

The improved pitching has made catcher Gregg Zaun's life much easier. He doesn't have to squat as long and he's fresher when its time to hit.

"I've noticed the pitchers have been crisper," Zaun said. "It keeps guys on their toes. It's nice and refreshing to have a three-hour game. My philosophy is it doesn't matter if you get lost or you find where you're going, as long as you get there fast. I guess that's my L.A. mentality."

Johnson said he has some secret plans to make the games continue to move at their current pace, but he won't say how.

"I'm going to keep making them faster," Johnson said. "I have my ways, you can trust me on that."

Rocky update

Rookie pitcher Rocky Coppinger is not expected to miss his scheduled start Wednesday.

Coppinger left after 3 1/3 innings on Friday after taking a line drive off his upper ankle. Coppinger received treatment yesterday and was walking gingerly around the Orioles clubhouse, but, as many Orioles noted, the limp isn't that much different from Coppinger's regular gait. Coppinger said the ankle felt better yesterday but his entire right leg went numb when he was truck by the ball on Friday.

"At first I didn't know it hit me," Coppinger said. "And then it kicked in and started barking."

Johnson's back pain

Johnson wasn't very chipper on Friday, when he spent most of the afternoon in the trainers room recuperating from a back exam.

Johnson had an MRI on Friday and also had a large needle stuck in his back to inject dye into his spinal column. This enabled doctors to look at his vertebraes.

"I was spasing all over," Johnson said. "I was pretty worn out after the exam. I had a headache and a lot of pressure in my back."

Johnson is stil waiting for the results of the exam and he hopes to have an operation during the All-Star break in July. Johnson said no matter when the surgery is done, it will not conflict with the Orioles' schedule.

"Under no circumstances will I miss any time," Johnson said. "The same day you're whacked on you feel like running. It alleviates all the pain. The last time I had it done I took BP [batting practice] six weeks later. I played golf two weeks later."

New look

The Orioles unveiled new black and orange uniforms yesterday.

The American League approved the new jerseys last year but the Orioles donned them for the first time yesterday. The Orioles also sported their black caps with orange bills for the first time this season, although they've worn those hats in the past.

At least one player was unhappy with the change. Outfielder Mike Devereaux's name was misspelled on the back of his jersey. His name appeared as "Deveraux."

"That's weak," Devereaux said. "The least they could do is spell my name right. All they had to do was look at my other jersey to see how to spell it."

Water break

With temperatures again climbing to the 90s, the Orioles reinstituted their heat relief program. Fans feeling uncomfortable can get complimentary cups of ice at two locations behind home plate; one on the upper concourse and one on the lower. Additional first aid staff will be on duty as well. The program will continue for every weekend day game.

Miscellaneous

Pitcher Mike Mussina volunteered to squeeze in an extra start before the All-Star break, but the Orioles decided against the idea after mulling it over briefly. Mussina would have had to pitch twice on three days' rest before the break if the suggestion had been acted on. . . . Outfielder Luis Polonia returned to the lineup yesterday after missing two games with a groin injury.

Pub Date: 6/23/96

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