In a piecemeal bullpen, Milchin is a puzzling relief

August 15, 1996|By JOHN EISENBERG

Eddie Murray and Roberto Alomar won the game for the Orioles yesterday at Camden Yards, but not before Mike Milchin saved it.

Talk about a fragile blueprint for success.

Milchin is a 28-year-old left-hander with an 8.06 ERA who was claimed off waivers from the Twins last week.

He is so uncelebrated that Orioles manager Davey Johnson keeps calling him Mike Michelin, like the tires.

Of course, that didn't stop Johnson from throwing him into a bases-loaded situation in the eighth inning of a tie game the Orioles couldn't afford to lose yesterday.

A team with a $48 million payroll suddenly was resting on the arm of the Michelin Man!

What if there were a nail on the mound?

"Is it fair to say you're scrambling in the bullpen?" Johnson was asked after the game.

"Oh, you noticed?" Johnson said, smiling.

He could smile because Milchin came through against the Brewers yesterday, leaving the game for Murray and Alomar to win with home runs in the eighth inning -- the second homer of the game for both.

But how often will Milchin or anyone in the bullpen deliver like that?

The fact is that Johnson's bullpen is in tatters.

As much as things would appear to be looking up with the Orioles having won 11 of their past 15 games, their bullpen is a huge doubt hanging over their labor and threatening to render it irrelevant.

The bullpen had blown a 5-3 lead and was teetering on a total collapse before Milchin saved the day with a strikeout and a pop-up to leave the bases loaded and the crowd standing and roaring.

"I think the crowd was stunned" by Milchin's success, Johnson ** said.

He froze Jesse Levis with a gutsy 3-2 breaking ball, then threw a fastball that Fernando Vina popped up.

"What did I have to lose?" he said when asked about throwing the off-speed pitch on a full count.

Johnson had gone through three relievers before Milchin, and used another, closer Randy Myers, in the ninth.

Five relievers in one game: Get used to it.

Johnson can depend on only two of the eight pitchers in his bullpen -- Myers and Jesse Orosco -- so he is going with quantity over quality.

On the days when the starting pitchers don't last, the sixth, seventh and eighth innings are going to resemble those old vaudeville shows:

If an act stinks, give it the hook and get another one out there, fast.

Not exactly the classic way to make up ground in the standings, but what choice does Johnson have?

"I'm looking for someone, anyone, to step up," Johnson said.

It was hard to envision the Orioles in such desperate circumstances when they were signing all those All-Stars in the off-season, but injuries have intervened in this case.

Arthur Rhodes was having a breakthrough year as a setup man when he went down with shoulder trouble. Alan Mills has come back slowly from shoulder surgery. Armando Benitez has been out almost all season. Roger McDowell just came off the DL.

"We have had some bad luck," Johnson said.

The result is a Band-Aid bullpen with a dearth of reliable pitchers.

Since coming off the disabled list, McDowell has allowed seven runs in 6 1/3 innings.

In his last three appearances in close games, including yesterday's, Mills has yielded three hits, four runs and five walks in 1 2/3 innings.

That leaves Milchin and Archie Corbin.

Milchin began the season at Salt Lake City and allowed 31 hits in 21 innings as a Twin.

Corbin began the season in the Mexican League and recorded his first major-league win Tuesday night -- in his 11th season as a pro.

Beginning to fathom the depth of Johnson's problems?

To whom can he turn with confidence?

The New York tabloids are screaming about the Yankees folding with the Orioles having made up 4 1/2 games in 17 days, but the Yankees' bullpen is far, far better.

The Orioles also are still having trouble scoring runs unless they hit the ball out of the park, a tendency that will haunt them.

As well as they have played lately, they still haven't won a series against a team with a winning record since May.

A reversal of that form is unlikely with Johnson struggling so mightily with his bullpen.

Of all the unknowns, Corbin would seem to be the likeliest candidate to make that "step up" that Johnson is talking about.

Corbin, 28, throws unbelievably hard and allowed just two earned runs in his last 14 innings at Rochester.

He has spent his whole career bouncing around the minors, from Memphis to Harrisburg to Buffalo.

"I'm healthy, I feel good and I want to pitch," he said yesterday. "I know it's an opportunity and I want the ball."

Archie Corbin.

And Mike Milchin.

The Orioles' postseason hopes have come down to that.

And you thought this was a large-market franchise.

Pub Date: 8/15/96

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