Orioles sign Drabek, fill rotation Ex-Cy Young winner is expected to fill No. 4 or 5 starting spot

He'll reunite with Miller

Former Pirate is seen as stabilizer to staff

December 12, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The Orioles provided conclusive evidence yesterday that when they promoted Ray Miller to manager, they were also willing to take his advice.

Acting at Miller's urging, the Orioles signed former Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek to a one-year, $1.8 million contract that cements their starting rotation more than two months before the opening of spring training.

While Drabek becomes the Orioles' lowest-paid starter, it is not clear whether he or Scott Kamieniecki will open the season as the club's No. 4 starter. (Kamieniecki last week signed a two-year, $6.1 million deal.)

"I'm accepting of No. 4 or No. 5 as a starter," Drabek said. "Through my career I've been one through five. To me, it really doesn't matter."

Part of Drabek's appeal is his selfless, determined nature. Now 35, he won the National League Cy Young Award in 1990 with the Pittsburgh Pirates while Miller served as pitching coach.

Miller had pressed general manager Pat Gillick and assistant general manager Kevin Malone to pursue his former student when negotiations for more glamorous free agents Darryl Kile and Willie Blair fell apart.

Yesterday's was the Orioles' first off-season addition. Though unable to secure the No. 2 starter they originally proclaimed to be their primary off-season goal, Gillick and Malone have still upgraded a rotation that screamed for a competent No. 5 starter the past two seasons.

Shawn Boskie, Rocky Coppinger, Mike Johnson, Rick Krivda and Esteban Yan received a shot at the fifth starter's role last season. Boskie, Johnson and Yan are no longer with the club. Coppinger remains a health riddle after shoulder and elbow surgery. And the acquisition of Drabek makes it clear Krivda's days are numbered.

"We're getting better. Losing [closer Randy] Myers didn't help us, but I think we're a little better starting-wise than at the end of the season," Gillick said.

To create space for Drabek on the jammed 40-man roster, the Orioles asked waivers on reliever Brian Williams for the purpose of selling his contract to the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks of Japan's Pacific League.

Drabek crafted a 12-11 record with a disturbing 5.74 ERA last season with the Chicago White Sox, who did not offer him arbitration. He admittedly struggled with his mechanics and never became confident in pitching coach Mike Pazik.

With Miller, who oversaw his 92 wins in six seasons with the Pirates, there should be no such discomfort.

"He pitched pennant-clinchers and big games as the No. 1 starter on that team," recalled Miller. "You know what he's going to give you. I wanted anybody we got to be a gamer and a competitor. I've never heard him make an excuse. If he loses 1-0, he's going to say he made a bad pitch to lose the game."

The Orioles hope Drabek will provide enough innings to help save a bullpen fatigued by the fifth starters' shortcomings last season. Drabek said he hopes to pitch at least 200 innings while Gillick projected a combined 320-350 between Drabek and Kamieniecki. Drabek can make an additional $600,000 based upon appearance incentives.

"It's not necessarily a matter of changing or upgrading, but getting back to where I was," Drabek said. "I think having Ray there again he'll be able to notice what I couldn't notice on my own. Having four or five different pitching coaches the last five years, it was hard for them and for me. For them to notice the little things that Ray could [notice] being together six years was hard.

"We agreed this was a chance to get back to where I used to be. It's going to be easier when things aren't going right. One thing I didn't do the last couple years was correct things right away. By the time I corrected it, it was too late."

Last season snowballed for the breaking-ball pitcher early. Bedeviled by poor defense and his own deficiencies with runners on base -- the league batted .312 with a .574 slugging percentage against him with men in scoring position, he pitched only 169 1/3 innings. The right-hander also surrendered 30 home runs, cause for concern in claustrophobic Camden Yards. While 2-0 with a 2.95 ERA against the Orioles, he was only 3-5 with an 8.34 ERA against the rest of the AL East.

"Doug's an extremely coachable guy," Miller said. "If you know what makes him tick, he's fine. But if you don't, he's still going to do anything you tell him and sometimes that only makes it worse."

Miller spoke with Drabek several times before he agreed to terms. The Texas Rangers, Houston Astros and Cincinnati Reds also had expressed interest, but none offered enough to cause Drabek to walk away from reuniting with his mentor. "Having him over there was an attraction," Drabek said. "I really needed somebody like that to get me back on track and find some of the consistency I've lost the last couple of years."

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