Droll Haynes finds year isn't laughing matter Struggling O's pitcher eager to pack up '96's confusion, frustration

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

DETROIT -- Alan Mills keeps insisting to his teammates that Jimmy Haynes has an exceptional sense of humor, offering droll witticisms in the soft Southern drawl Haynes acquired while growing up in Georgia.

"Jimmy's hilarious," says Mills, but nobody believes the reliever, because Haynes doesn't usually speak unless spoken to, and among the louder voices in the Orioles' clubhouse -- Bobby Bonilla, David Wells, and now Eddie Murray -- Haynes' voice is overwhelmed.

Mills is among the few who know about Haynes' comedy, or how Haynes is feeling, at the end of a tremendously disappointing rookie season. Haynes has fallen from starting pitcher to mop-up reliever, and on Thursday night, he gave up four runs, didn't hustle to cover first base, and threw a ball into the stands -- all in one inning. As he walked off the mound, head down, the fans who remained to see the end of an 11-3 rout booed him loudly.

Orioles manager Davey Johnson said Friday there's a chance Haynes won't pitch again this season, because his confidence is so shaken. There are two weeks to go, but Haynes, 3-6 with an 8.29 ERA, acknowledged yesterday he's looking forward to the off-season, when he can step back from a game that has confused and confounded him this year.

Haynes will return home for the month of October, before marrying Mandi Earnest on Nov. 16 and pitching in the Arizona Fall League. "I'm looking forward to going home and relaxing and not thinking about baseball," said Haynes, 24. "I think I'm drained mentally. That way I can start looking forward to next year, and put this year behind me."

Haynes impressed the Orioles' staff last September, with his hard, sinking curveball. Then Detroit manager Sparky Anderson talked about how you don't see good overhand curveballs like the ones Haynes was throwing. Pat Gillick became general manager and Johnson the manager and everybody who saw Haynes with the Orioles told them, no question, Haynes is ready to be part of your rotation in 1996.

But from the first days of spring training, Johnson and pitching coach Pat Dobson began to have doubts. Haynes' mechanics were erratic, he didn't have much command of his fastball, and he didn't seem to have much of a curveball or changeup. Nevertheless, Haynes started the year in the rotation, based on the promise he showed last September.

Haynes struggled from the outset, pitching a couple of good games in May before finally collapsing and being dropped into the bullpen in June. Used in non-pressure relief situations, he seemed to be coming back, and the Orioles gave him another start, against Minnesota July 22.

"But he walked the first two hitters," said Dobson, "and he was right back to where he was."

A week later, Haynes was sent down to Triple-A. He did not express anger to reporters, a reaction typical of demoted players; nor did he express remorse. Haynes half-joked he was surprised the demotion didn't come sooner, a sign of his diminished confidence.

Haynes pitched a little better at Triple-A Rochester, but since being recalled Aug. 29, he's thrown a total of five innings and given up 14 hits, 14 runs and eight walks, culminating with Thursday's disaster. "I felt about three inches tall," said Haynes. "Not getting to first that's something I've always done, from the time I started playing. But the other night, I just kind of trotted over there. I just jogged over there. I don't know why.

"It was just a bad night. I was glad to get it over with."

But Haynes admits that he must learn how to maintain his focus. Bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks says Haynes almost always throws great while warming up, but Haynes enters a game and he begins to think about if his mechanics are correct and if he's overthrowing, rather than just throwing the ball.

With all those questions crowding his brain, "a couple of guys will get hits," Haynes explains, "and then I'll start thinking, 'Here we go again. ' I've got to try to stay calm and not get upset."

Hendricks said: "It's evident to me he doesn't know how to pitch. He's gotten here because he's got great stuff. Now that he's here, he's got to learn how to pitch. He's like a fish out of water now.

"I don't know if the pressure of being the No. 5 starter got to him, or what. I don't know, because he doesn't say that much. He doesn't talk that much. He's tough to read. He always says he's fine.

"But I know this kid's going to win up here. He's going to win."

Mills saw Haynes trudge off the mound Thursday and felt bad for his friend. "On top of being a great guy," Mills said, "he has great stuff. Great stuff. I don't like to play catch with him, because he's got so much movement on his pitches.

"What's hard for him is, he's never struggled before, in the minors. This is the first time he's struggled, and that's got to be hard."

Seeds of doubt in Big Apple

A brief sample of what they're saying in New York about the Yankees:

Newspaper: New York Times

Headline: Double vision for the Orioles

Writer: Claire Smith

Mood: Ominous

Text: "The loss of [Dwight] Gooden is troubling. And it reinforced the obvious -- that [Joe] Torre's options are as thin as his rotation.

"Torre will now have to rely all the more on Kenny Rogers, the pitcher who all but lost Torre way back in spring training because of an inability to be open about an injury, a violation of one of the rules Torre holds dear.

"And what comes after Rogers is even less appetizing. For Gooden will be replaced today by Ramiro Mendoza, not exactly your impact player."

Pub Date: 9/15/96

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