Johnson may begin with 13 pitchers Faced with tough choices, manager could expand staff

Orioles notebook

February 22, 1997|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

The Orioles were starved for pitching last spring, but they won't be this year. In fact, club officials are considering opening the 1997 season with -- no kidding -- 13 pitchers.

If they did, the Orioles would play the first five games of the regular season with just 11 position players (Roberto Alomar will serve a five-game suspension to open the season).

Filling more than half of a 25-man roster with pitchers may be some sort of record. At the least, it's highly unorthodox. But circumstances are such that this could be an inevitable solution to some roster problems.

Begin with the 11 pitchers the Orioles are certain to carry: starters Mike Mussina, Jimmy Key, Scott Erickson, Rocky Coppinger and Shawn Boskie, and relievers Randy Myers, Arthur Rhodes, Jesse Orosco, Armando Benitez, Terry Mathews and Alan Mills. That would leave one slot available under the original plans of manager Davey Johnson.

Trouble is, the Orioles have at least three qualified candidates for that one spot, and they could lose all of them if they don't keep them in the majors. The Orioles like Rule 5 draft choice Mike Johnson a great deal, and if the youngster is not on the Opening Day roster, they have to offer him back to the Toronto Blue Jays for $25,000 -- something they want to avoid.

Ex-New York Yankees right-hander Scott Kamieniecki, coming back from arm trouble, is throwing well and his sinker leads to ground balls, making him perfectly suited for the sure-handed infield of Cal Ripken, Mike Bordick, etc. Kamieniecki is signed to a minor-league contract, but if the Orioles don't keep him in the big leagues, he can seek a major-league job elsewhere.

Left-hander Rick Krivda, developing into a serviceable major-league starter, is out of options and can't be sent back to the minors unless the Orioles pass him through waivers. They'll have to keep Krivda or trade him.

The Orioles may keep two of the three and have a staff of 13 pitchers. "The way our pitching was last year," Johnson said, "I'd rather keep 13 than give one back."

If they do, the Orioles would have only three bench players -- backup catcher Lenny Webster, reserve outfielder Jerome Walton and a utility infielder (the front-runner now is Jeff Reboulet). But that's not as bad as it sounds, considering most of the Orioles' everyday players do, in fact, play every day, from Ripken to first baseman Rafael Palmeiro (162 games last year) to Bordick (155 games last year).

"We have a unique situation," assistant general manager Kevin Malone said, "and one of our options is carrying 13 pitchers."

Weighty issues

Benitez worked on a changeup and a sinker during the off-season, but not quite enough on his waistline, as far as Johnson is concerned.

The manager nudged Benitez to lose a few more pounds in the weeks ahead.

"He wants me to be in shape and ready for the season," Benitez said.

Welcome respite

Alomar's ankle injury will sideline him for four weeks, but Malone said it might be a blessing in disguise.

"It's never good when somebody gets hurt," Malone said. "But because he's injured, he'll get to rest and he'll be much stronger as the season progresses. This is a guy who has played baseball year-round the last couple of years, and he can use the relaxation."

Around the horn

Johnson has noticed that Mike Johnson, the Rule 5 pitcher, resembles Mussina, and may even be using Mussina as an example, in some of the ways he works on the mound. First base coach John Stearns said: "Eric Davis showed me some bat speed. He showed some big-time power." Veteran reliever Orosco sees a lot of good, young pitching talent around him this spring. "Davey [Johnson] has a lot of work to do. I don't know how set he is on the rotation and the bullpen," Orosco said. "If he's not, there's a lot of good arms for him to consider." Tickets for the Orioles' exhibition games here are selling very slowly.

Spring break

What the Orioles did yesterday: Hitters took batting practice against Orioles pitchers. Mike Mussina threw crisply, but it was outfielder Eric Davis who provided the day's highlights, with some monstrous home runs. One blast landed yards and yards beyond the left-field wall; some estimated the shot at around 450 feet. Davis wasn't necessarily helped by a strong crosswind that blew from center to left, but all left-handed hitters struggled to hit long balls against the gusts. Brady Anderson poked the ball toward left, rather than try to pull everything.

What they'll do today: More live batting practice, and lots of work on rundown and cutoff plays. "We weren't good at those things last year," said manager Davey Johnson.

You know it's spring training when: Fans arrive before 8 a.m. and sit in the stands under a hot sun for hours and hours waiting for Cal Ripken to finish his workout around 2 p.m. and sign a few autographs.

Pub Date: 2/22/97

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