Benitez makes pitch for quality appearances Slider, fastball mix making reliever look good

Sidelight

September 02, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- Mark McGwire faced the new and improved Armando Benitez twice last week, and on each at-bat, his front foot, his left, edged toward third as he swung. On Saturday, Benitez threw one of his 94-mph fastballs inside to Edgar Martinez, and the Seattle designated hitter didn't have another good swing.

The fear factor. Benitez has mixed his fastball with a sharp-breaking slider since coming off the disabled list, and he's been exceptional. "I can't tell you how well he's been throwing," said Orioles manager Davey Johnson.

Benitez's recovery from an elbow problem, the emergence of Archie Corbin and the trade for Terry Mathews has turned the Orioles' bullpen from a problem to a strength over the last couple of weeks. Corbin has a 1.80 ERA in 12 games, and Mathews has given up two runs in 7 1/3 innings, striking out five.

Benitez has struck out six batters in 2 2/3 innings over four appearances. His strikeout of Martinez closed the Orioles' 7-6 victory against Seattle on Saturday. "I think when he buzzed Edgar," said catcher Mark Parent, "he took away a little of his aggressiveness.

"He's what is called effectively wild. I don't think of Benitez as a control pitcher. If there's a doubt in your mind [about getting hit by a pitch] when you're hitting, it's tougher."

Three months ago, the Orioles thought Benitez was finished for the year, and there appeared to be a very good chance Benitez was going to need reconstructive surgery. Benitez went on the disabled list in April, and after a setback in May, he visited Dr. James Andrews, who told him he had a slight tear in an elbow ligament and that if he were to continue to experience pain, he'd need reconstructive surgery.

Benitez was horrified. "I told him, 'Doctor, whatever you tell me to do [to avoid surgery], I'll do it,' " Benitez said.

Andrews put him on a rehabilitation program, and about a month ago, he began to build arm strength. The Orioles still weren't sure whether he'd be able to help them -- right up to last Monday, when Johnson inserted him into the game to face McGwire. Benitez struck out the slugger.

Dobson compared the Benitez of 1995 to the Benitez of 1996. "The biggest thing is that he's pitching ahead in the count. He's made a lot of quality pitches when he's had to.

"He's maintained his delivery, and he hasn't been over-throwing. When he gets into trouble, that's usually what he's doing."

Benitez said, "I'm changed. I've changed my life. I'm the new Benitez."

Striking effort

Armando Benitez has struck out some big names in his four appearances since coming off the disabled list:

Date SO IP Victims

8/26 1 2/3 McGwire

8/28 1 2/3 McGwire

8/29 3 1 Griffey, Martinez,

Buhner

8/31 1 1/3 Martinez

Pub Date: 9/02/96

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