Dodgers balk at Mills or Benitez for Nomo 'Everybody [with Orioles] wants this to happen'

June 03, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Peter Schmuck and Bill Free contributed to this article.

Moving to push a trade for Dodgers pitcher Hideo Nomo, the Orioles have offered either of their two most prized right-handed relievers, Armando Benitez or Alan Mills, but will apparently have to do more to sway Los Angeles officials.

Orioles officials still believe a deal possible within the next 48 hours, according to a source familiar with the talks. "Everybody wants this to happen -- from [manager Ray] Miller on up the line. There's reason for optimism on this one," said a club source.

The Dodgers designated Nomo for assignment Monday. The move obligates the Dodgers to trade or release the 1995 National League Rookie of the Year within 10 days. Though shocking, Monday's move has precipitated a trade war within a pitching-thin industry. Few teams are as interested as the Orioles, who are missing 60 percent of their starting rotation because of injuries to Mike Mussina, Jimmy Key and Scott Kamieniecki.

Mussina is expected to be activated Saturday. Key's return is uncertain because of an irritated rotator cuff. Kamieniecki has yet to begin throwing since being placed on the disabled list with a strained neck.

The two clubs have talked frequently the past two days. Miller continues to press the front office for pitching help and publicly endorsed Nomo yesterday.

"Obviously, I'd take any major-league starter if they were available," said Miller, who was pitching coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates when Nomo came into the National League.

"He was awesome with the split-finger his first two years. When he is throwing hard, it is difficult to differentiate between the fastball and the split-finger."

Dodgers general manager Fred Claire would not rule out a future deal with the Orioles involving Nomo, but dismissed speculation about a deal for Benitez. "I don't see a trade with Baltimore as a trade that will go through," Claire said last night. "We will try to move quickly. We will trade Hideo Nomo. But I do not see that trade [with the Orioles] taking place."

Benitez has recently scarred his value with inconsistency and his involvement in last month's fight with the New York Yankees. Benitez served an eight-game suspension for precipitating the fight by hitting Tino Martinez with a pitch. He has pitched in four of five games since, including yesterday's 9-8 win over the Seattle Mariners.

The Dodgers have made clear they want major-league players rather than prospects. The Orioles apparently are willing to deplete an already thin bullpen in order to rehabilitate their starting rotation. If able to acquire Nomo, they would then begin an immediate search for a late-inning reliever, probably beginning with an inquiry about injured Philadelphia Phillies reliever Ricky Bottalico.

General manager Pat Gillick and assistant GM Kevin Malone already have received authorization from majority owner Peter Angelos to complete a deal for Nomo if it can be negotiated. Nomo is on the final season of a four-year contract but remains arbitration-eligible for the 1999 and 2000 seasons.

Lingering questions surround Nomo's soundness, and the Orioles would first need to have their team doctors examine the right-hander's elbow. Nomo underwent elbow surgery last October and was 2-7 with a 5.05 ERA at the time of Monday's announcement. However, the Orioles also are impressed by opponents' .228 average against Nomo, ninth-best in the league. Nomo also entered yesterday tied for fifth with Kevin Brown in NL strikeouts.

"Obviously, there are questions or he wouldn't be available," said a source familiar with the situation. "But there's a tremendous upside."

Pub Date: 6/03/98

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