O's not new start Williams craved Talented free agent finds himself again relegated to bullpen

March 11, 1997|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- When Brian Williams joined the Orioles as a free agent in January, it was with the understanding that he would compete for a spot in the rotation. But four weeks into spring training, he doesn't believe the club has any intention of using him that way.

Williams has become pretty good at reading the signs.

The same thing happened to him last season. And the one before that. He yearns to be a starter, but can't escape the long arm of the bullpen.

Williams appeared in his second exhibition game yesterday, entering in the sixth inning of the Orioles' 8-5 victory over the Atlanta Braves. He struck out Fausto Tejero and Rafael Belliard and retired Andruw Jones on a liner to center.

That was it. Shawn Boskie, another free-agent acquisition who recently was added to the 40-man roster, worked the next two innings and gave up a run.

In his previous effort, Williams didn't allow a hit in two innings, but issued three walks. "My velocity's coming along," he said.

Williams, 28, isn't sure if it matters how well he throws at this juncture. When he joined the Orioles, he was lumped with such other fifth-starter candidates as Boskie, Scott Kamieniecki and Rick Krivda. It seemed he would be given a legitimate shot, but, "It didn't turn out that way," he said.

"I don't really know what position I'm trying to fight for, or if I'm even fighting for any position. I can tell from the points of the game I've been put in that they're not looking at me as a starter. But I don't worry about those things. When they give me the ball, I'll do the best I can."

Barring injuries, he'll probably be doing it for another club.

Manager Davey Johnson said if the big right-hander ever became more consistent, "he'd be what they call lightning in a bottle."

"He was awesome today," Johnson said. "That's the thing with him. When he hits his spots, with his arm and his stuff, he's unhittable. Sometimes it looks like he gets lazy and throws the ball out of the strike zone, gets behind and gets hit. But [referring to yesterday], that's why everybody wants him. We're trying to give him a good look."

Said pitching coach Ray Miller: "He's always lacked consistency. He's never had a prolonged period of success. One day, you'll see him hit every location, the next day he'll hit once and miss twice. That has a lot to do with adrenalin and mechanics and overthrowing. He has a good breaking ball, a good fastball. A guy like that, I think of [Dave] Stewart. He had great stuff but didn't have a job, then he was one of the best pitchers in baseball."

By signing with the Orioles, Williams at least gave himself a better opportunity to win than last season, when he toiled for the last-place Detroit Tigers. He had been lured to Motown as a free agent by new general manager Randy Smith, who held the same position the previous year with the San Diego Padres, where Williams pitched after being acquired in a 12-player trade with the Houston Astros.

Besides his relationship with Smith, what attracted Williams to the rebuilding Tigers was the promise to start. But he filled just about every role on the staff, beginning as the closer, earning a spot in the rotation in the middle of May and making 17 consecutive starts, being a long reliever and then returning to closer. He had only four save opportunities in the first 1 1/2 months, but went on to work 121 innings.

There also were three starts at Triple-A Toledo, after his record had fallen to 3-10 and his ERA had climbed to 6.77, before rejoining the Tigers on Sept. 3.

And there was the losing. Lots of losing. The Tigers were 53-109, 39 games out of first place in the American League's East Division and easy fodder for the late-night television quipsters.

"I still approached my job the same way, whether we were 30 games out or one. I tried to do the best I could," Williams said.

As for the shifting between the rotation and the bullpen, he said: "That's happened to me the past three years. I go in and a team says I'm going to do one thing, then I'm doing what I need to do and somehow, it's just been my luck that it doesn't go the way I want it to.

"I chose Detroit because I thought it was the best situation for me. They didn't have many starters. I could go in and get 35 starts and they would stick with me. I thought it was the best decision, but it turned out to be one of the worst decisions I've made so far. This guy wanted me to do this and this guy wanted me to do that. And the one who wanted me to do what I was doing was the one whose opinion really counted, which did not happen to be the one who told me what I would do when I came over there. Last year didn't help me at all."

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