Dominant Mills steps up and back Reliever returns to where he was before surgery

Orioles Notebook

September 15, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

DETROIT -- Alan Mills is a dominating reliever -- again.

Mills is showing the form and velocity he displayed earlier in his career, before he injured his shoulder and had surgery last August. The Orioles have noticed the changes.

Mills has retired the last 16 batters he's faced and 18 of 19. He set down all five Tigers he faced Friday and has at least one strikeout in 12 of his last 13 outings. He has two wins and two saves in his last seven appearances and the team has used him as an alternate closer to Randy Myers lately.

Pitching coach Pat Dobson said Mills' velocity is as high as anyone's in baseball, including the league's top closers.

"He's right up there with [Troy] Percival, [Roberto] Hernandez and [Mariano] Rivera and those guys," Dobson said. "His slider's been good, too."

Mills said he noticed a change in August in Oakland, when for the first time all year he could really feel the ball coming off his fingertips. Catcher Chris Hoiles said Mills' velocity is better now than it has been all year and the pitcher's confidence is at a season high as well.

"He's come all the way back," Hoiles said. "He's come a long way back with his velocity, his confidence, everything."

Tigers travails

Friday night the Orioles were part of history.

Bobby Bonilla's homer Friday took the 1987 Orioles off the hook as the team that had surrendered the most homers in major-league history. Bonilla's was the 228th allowed by Tigers pitching, breaking the '87 Orioles' record. The Detroit staff also is on a pace to establish a record for the worst team ERA in American League history, with a 6.39 mark.

"I'm not real proud of that, but at this point I really don't care," Tigers manager Buddy Bell said of his team's home run record. "It's unfortunate. It happened and we move on."

The Tigers batters aren't much better. They've struck out 182 times in their past 18 games (10.1 per game) and are 38 strikeouts shy of setting a new American League record for strikeouts in one season. The 1991 Tigers currently hold that distinction. The Tigers are just 56 strikeouts short of breaking the 1968 New York Mets' major-league record of 1,203.

Hockey mask for Hoiles?

The AL gave Toronto catcher Charlie O'Brien approval to wear a hockey-style mask behind the plate and Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles would like to get a similar model made up for next season.

"I saw the mask when Toronto was in Baltimore," Hoiles said. "It's pretty neat. I might have to get one of those made up. Maybe a black mask with an orange Oriole on it. That would be neat. After all, the backstop is our net. We can't let the ball hit it."

Backup catcher Mark Parent has a hockey connection going, too. Parent earned the nickname "Bernie" in reference to the legendary goalie Bernie Parent. Although their last names are pronounced differently, the nickname has stuck with the catcher his entire career.

Parent said he got an autographed picture from the hockey great with the inscription, "To Bernie Parent, from the real Bernie Parent."

First base coach John Stearns said the nickname is fitting since the bulky, 6-foot-5 catcher certainly has enough size to take the ice. "You'd be a good goalie Bernie," Stearns said. "You can block the whole net without even moving."

Van Poppel mystery to O's

Todd Van Poppel, the Tigers starter today, has struggled his entire career since being a prized first-round pick by Oakland in 1990, and carries a 7.89 ERA into his start against the Orioles.

However, none of the Orioles' sluggers has hit Van Poppel well. Cal Ripken is 2-for-18 lifetime, Rafael Palmeiro is 3-for-12 (but all three hits are homers), Hoiles is 1-for-12 and Brady Anderson is 4-for-18. Overall, the Orioles' regular starting lineup is a combined 12-for-73 (.164) lifetime vs. Van Poppel with four homers and 15 strikeouts.

Bolstering the Buffaloes

Stearns was the center of much clubhouse teasing yesterday. Stearns was an All-Big Eight defensive back at Colorado and was getting ripped for the Buffaloes' play in a loss to Michigan. The players were watching the game before playing the Tigers and Palmeiro was the only other person rooting for Colorado.

"It's like me and Stearnsie against the world," Palmeiro said. "I don't know why nobody else wants them to win. I like their offense."

Johnson backs budget cut

Manager Davey Johnson said he'd like to see the Orioles cut their payroll next season.

Johnson said he'd like to break in a few young pitchers next year, possibly Single-A prospects Chris Fussell or Sidney Ponson, and he'd like to experiment with other young players as well. Johnson said he'd prefer a $40 million payroll, about $10 million less than what the team is paying now.

"I'd like to go with about $40 million and some young players," Johnson said. "Ideally, I'd like to drop down to $45 million and add a pitcher and maybe a position player. If we could cut it by maybe $10 million, I'd feel better."

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