Stronger Key nets a high five Longest outing pleases lefty, who survives scare

Orioles notebook

March 24, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For Orioles pitcher Jimmy Key, physical results always have meant more in the spring than statistics. Both were in his favor yesterday.

Key went five innings for the first time this spring, allowing one run and five hits in the Orioles' 7-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins. He's 3-0 with one start remaining before the regular season.

"I'm improving, getting arm strength," he said. "I don't pay much attention as far as results, as long as I feel good. That's my main concern."

His biggest concern yesterday was a shot back to the mound from former Oriole Alex Ochoa leading off the second inning that ricocheted off the inside of Key's left foot and bounced to shortstop Ozzie Guillen, who recorded the out.

Key held out his arms and looked toward the dugout as if to say, "I told you so." And he had.

"He was saying, 'I can't see,' " recalled manager Ray Miller. "The minute it hit him, he said, 'See?' "

Said Key: "I never saw it. This is one of the worst stadiums I've ever pitched in. I can barely see [the ball] coming back from the catcher. It's so bright and everything's aluminum and white."

The Twins weren't getting a very good look at Key, either. He retired the first seven, including five balls to Guillen, and the only run came on a one-out triple by Brent Gates in the third and a single by Denny Hocking.

"There were a few balls still in the middle of the plate, but for the most part they were on the corner or off. For the most part, everything's down," Key said.

Miller said he yanked Key after five innings because "he looked so good to me and it was a beautiful day and I thought, let him go pitch six or seven in the bullpen and really feel good about a good spring."

Miller had said before the game that he likes what he's seen from Key, and he's looking beyond numbers that include six earned runs and only two walks in 19 innings.

"I'm seeing better arm strength than at the same time last year. More resiliency. It just seems like his arm bounces back better. It's not as stiff the next day," Miller said. "I still think, coming off the [rotator cuff] surgery and pitching that quick for the Yankees in '96 took its toll on him. This spring he seems a lot livelier."

Miller agreed with the suggestion that Key, 36, needed to have a decent spring for positive reinforcement. The left-hander went 5-9 with a 4.15 ERA in his final 20 starts last season, and was struggling in the postseason until pitching three hitless innings in Cleveland in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.

"I think that playoff game was a statement. Our backs are against the wall and he shuts them down in order in their park," Miller said.

Guillen spot looks promising

Miller wouldn't reveal his final roster decisions, saying the announcement would come today. But he dropped a strong hint.

Asked if Guillen was assured of making the club, meaning the Orioles would open the season with 11 pitchers and two utility players, Miller grinned and repeated that the media would be informed today.

Then, after a couple of seconds, he added, "He'd get my vote."

Webster elbow tender

Doctors have recommended that Miller give catcher Lenny Webster a couple days off from throwing to rest a tender right elbow.

Miller continues to minimize the problem, but it's the second time this spring Webster has needed to back off. He also stopped participating in a throwing drill, though he played in the game.

"I think he's fine, but the doctors are worried," said Miller, who brought catchers Chris Hoiles, Melvin Rosario and Charlie Greene to Fort Myers yesterday.

"There's nothing on a catcher that doesn't hurt by now. The dumbest thing you can ask a catcher is, 'How do you feel?' "

Kammy concern

The only concern Miller has with the rotation at this point, and it's a minor one, is the amount of pitches No. 4 starter Scott Kamieniecki has needed to get through 12 2/3 innings.

"But sometimes the guy who throws the most pitches in spring training ends up further advanced during the year because he's had to work out of jams," Miller said.

As for the others, Miller said, "I like the fact that Mike [Mussina] got tested a little bit the other day, Scottie [Erickson] has been tested a little bit and come through strong, and [Doug] Drabek has been electric."

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