O's bullpen strikes fear into foes

On Baseball

April 06, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Kansas City Royals manager Bob Boone got the first regular-season look at the Orioles' bullpen from an opposing viewpoint, and he didn't like it a bit. That, however, is the best compliment he could have paid to the tight crew that Davey Johnson has assembled to put the finishing touches on a promising 1997 season.

"If Baltimore can bring those four guys in there throwing strikes, they've really got something," said Boone, whose team fell victim to a pair of strong bullpen performances in the first regular-season series of the year. "Every one of them throws hard. They've got some pretty good gas."

The Orioles sent Alan Mills, Jesse Orosco, Armando Benitez and Randy Myers to the mound on Tuesday, and they combined to strike out six over three scoreless innings. Myers was the most impressive, striking out the side in the ninth to record his first of two saves in the series.

Boone didn't have much to smile about during the brief two-game sweep, but he cracked a wry grin remembering the way the Orioles turned out the lights on Opening Day.

"I thought it was going to be a big advantage when they took Benitez out of the game," Boone said. "But every one of those guys throws hard. Anytime you've got that kind of gas, you've got something."

The Orioles certainly agree, but even general manager Pat Gillick and assistant general manager Kevin Malone were pleasantly surprised by the performance of the bullpen in the Royals series.

Minutes after Myers nailed down the victory in the opener, Gillick and Malone were in the Orioles' video room with player development director Syd Thrift, crowded around a monitor watching a replay of the final inning.

"We came down because we wanted to see if he looked as good down [on TV] as he looked from upstairs," Malone said. "He only pitched a few innings in spring training. Maybe we won't even ask him to show up next year."

Myers is famous for arriving at spring training as close to the last non-fineable minute that he can, but he has gotten off to a strong start in both of his seasons with the Orioles. Perhaps what is just as important is that his hard-throwing setup men are healthy and ready to go.

The Yankees won the World Series last year because they had the best combination of stopper and setup man, but closer John Wetteland left the club to sign with the Texas Rangers. Mariano Rivera is one of baseball's best young relievers and should be able to fill his shoes, but the Yankees still suffered a net loss in bullpen depth, even if Jeff Nelson and Co. pitch well in setup relief.

The Orioles clearly gained ground in that area, especially if Mills and Benitez can remain healthy all year. The bullpen has great left-right balance (three left-handers and three right-handers) and it has a secret weapon -- unheralded middle man Terry Mathews.

Mathews is the quiet, unassuming guy who came over from the Florida Marlins in a trade last year and pitched well in limited late-season duty. He was effective though not awe-inspiring last season, but Miller said he doesn't think Orioles fans have seen what he is capable of doing.

"I thought Terry Mathews was the best setup man in the National League," said Miller, who served as pitching coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates for 10 years before rejoining the Orioles this season. "The Marlins used him every day last year. He may not have pitched every day, but they had him up every day. I think he might have been a little tired when he got over here."

The only problem Johnson may have is deciding which of his setup relievers to use in mop-up situations, since every one of them appears capable of working effectively in pressurized late-inning situations.

"I wouldn't be afraid to put any of our six guys in the game in the eighth and ninth inning," Miller said. "But that doesn't mean that every one of them is going to be great every time."

Sheffield deal over the edge

The Chicago White Sox raised a lot of eyebrows when they gave embattled outfielder Albert Belle a record five-year, $55 million contract, but the $60 million deal recently signed by Florida Marlins outfielder Gary Sheffield leaves room to wonder if club owner Wayne Huizenga has any baseball business sense.

There's no doubt that Huizenga is a great businessman. He parlayed a waste-disposal business into a video rental and sports empire, so you'd think that he would know when to take the big plunge and when to stick his toe in the water and shy away.

Sheffield is a great player, but his track record should create at least the suspicion that the club might regret this deal three years down the road.

Belle, for all his foibles, has proved to be one of the most durable players in the game. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf knew what was getting, a volatile guy who may be a problem sometimes, but also one who will be driven to put up great numbers in each of the five years he is under contract.

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