For starters, Erickson first in postseason

September 13, 1997|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Not that he looked worthy last night, but Scott Erickson should be the Orioles' starting pitcher in Game 1 of the Division Series against Seattle.

Erickson, Mike Mussina, then Jimmy Key, with Erickson going again on three days' rest in Game 4, if necessary, and Mussina doing the same in Game 5.

It might seem presumptuous to discuss the Orioles' postseason rotation, seeing as how they've been outscored 27-7 by the Yankees the past two nights.

Still, there's only one man who thinks that these games are important. And trust us, Mr. Angelos, your team is going to win the AL East, anyway.

Manager Davey Johnson said he doesn't want to plan for Seattle when the Orioles have yet to clinch, but he acknowledged before last night's game that Erickson and Mussina would start Games 1 and 2 in the Kingdome.

In which order?

Johnson wouldn't say.

"It depends on how we finish, how the work sets up," Johnson said. "I know I'd go with the two right-handers, but I'm not naming my rotation. We haven't won anything."

No, they haven't, but it's going to happen, unless the Orioles turn into the '64 Phillies, in which case Angelos will fire Johnson before the season is even over.

Today's line:

Yankees (-10) Orioles.

Seriously, Erickson would be the right choice to start Game 1 not only because he's deserving, but also because it would be preferable to use him before Mussina on three days' rest.

Key then would start Game 3 at Camden Yards, where he is winless in nine starts since May 7.

Scott Kamieniecki?

"If you go back and look at his numbers, they've been pretty good," Johnson said. "Obviously, he'd like to start. But he might be a guy I need to go from the sixth to seventh inning."

Kamieniecki is unbeaten in eight starts since July 25 and 9-5 with a 3.97 ERA overall despite having the fourth-worst run support in the league. Johnson said it's possible he could start Game 4, but not Game 3 over Key.

"I doubt that," Johnson said. "I think Jimmy is a big-game pitcher. I couldn't see any situation that could come up [where Key would not pitch] unless it was a health situation."

The Orioles signed Key in part because he's 5-2 with a 3.16 ERA in 11 career postseason appearances. And let's not forget what happened in Game 3 of last year's ALCS -- at Camden Yards, after Key struggled the final two months.

The question now is if Key is indeed regaining his early season form -- or if the 36-year-old left-hander might be better off missing a start or two to ensure that he is fresh for October.

Johnson repeated yesterday that Key threw "great" in Thursday's 14-2 loss to the Yankees. Key, too, said he was encouraged, but he is still falling behind too many hitters, struggling with his command.

Heck, even if Key was rolling, it might be best to start the two right-handers in Seattle -- the Mariners hit lefties (.295) even harder than they do righties (.277).

And for all of Key's recent difficulties at Camden, it's not like he has become allergic to the place -- he had a 3.58 ERA at home entering Thursday night's start.

Erickson, meanwhile, has been the Orioles' most consistent starter all season. He also has been their best pitcher in the Kingdome this year, going 1-0 with a 2.40 ERA in two starts.

Mussina also has decent numbers in Seattle -- he's 3-0 lifetime with a 4.32 ERA. And he said that pitching on three days' rest in the postseason would not be a problem.

"That's probably going to come up," Mussina said. "It's the playoffs. To do it once or twice is no big deal. To do it for two months, that's a big deal."

The prestige of starting Game 1?

"I don't care," Mussina said.

And if the Orioles won in four games or less, they could avoid using Mussina on short rest and start him in Game 1 of the ALCS.

Again, it all depends on how the Orioles finish the season. Even with these embarrassing losses to the Yankees, even with the back-to-back split doubleheaders against Cleveland, they still should clinch in time to set their rotation.

Ultimately, the bigger question might be whether they carry 10 or 11 pitchers. The answer could hinge on the condition of Eric Davis. But if Kamieniecki was in the bullpen, Johnson could go with one fewer pitcher.

Left-hander Rick Krivda would be the most obvious exclusion, but that doesn't mean he'd be out for the postseason. The Orioles could expand to an 11-man staff for the ALCS if they dropped another player from their roster.

"[Krivda] wouldn't be a guy I'd use against Seattle," Johnson said. "But he might be a guy I'd use against New York."

Oh, yes, the Yankees.

They're still going to finish second, aren't they?

Pub Date: 9/13/97

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