Opener draws rave reviews Key, Johnson sparkle on mound in 12-4 win

February 28, 1997|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- New pitching coach Ray Miller sat alone in the dugout after the Orioles' first exhibition game yesterday, empty cups and tobacco stains and sunflower seeds scattered at his feet.

He stared at the scoreboard, which read Orioles 14, Twins 2. Miller asked, "Wasn't it 12-4?"

Yes, that's right, it was 12-4. "We've got to get that squared away," Miller said.

Perfectionist.

The revamped Orioles, with Cal Ripken at third and Mike Bordick at shortstop, looked good in their first dress rehearsal of 1997, hitting four homers -- they supposedly sacrificed power in the off-season, right? -- and Jeffrey Hammonds hit two of those.

But what manager Davey Johnson talked about most afterward was how well Jimmy Key and Mike Johnson pitched, and what encouraged Miller most was how well Chris Hoiles caught.

Key, signed away from the Yankees as a free agent, threw two scoreless innings, allowing two hits, and displayed excellent control for a February outing. In Game 3 of the American League Championship Series last October, Key beat the Orioles by flipping breaking balls and changeups just off the outside corner; yesterday, he threw against the Twins in the same manner, frustrating hitters, inducing grounders. The first hitter of the game, Twins second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, bounced out to Bordick, interestingly enough.

"I wasn't trying to throw World Series-type pitches," said Key. "I was just trying to keep the ball out of left field," where the wind had the capability of turning fly balls into homers.

"I did pretty much what I wanted to do."

Miller thought Key teamed effectively with Hoiles, who did not catch with confidence last year.

"Jimmy seemed very comfortable with Chris, and that's important," said Miller. "Chris needs to have somebody on his side. I don't want to go into why, but he needs to have people believe in him. He needs to have a confidante, and have somebody pumping him up.

"I think what happened with him is he tried to please too many people. One of the complaints against him was that he worked too slowly. He may have been too analytical. I told him, 'Chris, you're good, you have good instincts. When you catch a pitch, you should have the next one in your mind, and go with it.' He worked fast today, and did a great job."

Key pitched like a veteran in his 14th spring training, which is to be expected. But though the Orioles are intrigued by the potential of Johnson, a 22-year-old right-hander taken from the Toronto Blue Jays in the Rule 5 draft, his composure yesterday stunned them.

Johnson, who pitched for Single-A Hagerstown last year, worked deliberately and with confidence and control, keeping almost all of his pitches down in the strike zone in two scoreless innings.

Davey Johnson said, "You would've thought he'd be a little more nervous."

Miller: "For a guy making his major-league debut, that was exceptionally impressive."

Perhaps Mike Johnson learned from Mike Mussina, who has unknowingly served as his model for several years. Like Mussina, Johnson is right-handed, on the thin side and with a compact delivery. Darren Balsley, Johnson's former minor-league pitching coach, suggested to the youngster several years ago that he should emulate Mussina.

Johnson, then, would watch Mussina on television every chance he had, and he acknowledged yesterday that he's been spying on Mussina since he arrived in camp two weeks ago, searching for knowledge.

Johnson, in Miller's estimation, made exactly one bad pitch, to Eric Anthony, following a changeup with a curveball; Anthony, his timing slowed just right, ripped it for a double. "But that was about it," said the pitching coach, who could find little fault with much of anything.

Except for that scoreboard. Got to get that right.

Orioles today

Exhibition opponent: Florida Marlins

Site: Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Stadium

Time: 1:05 p.m.

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Marlins' Pat Rapp vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson

Pub Date: 2/28/97

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