Left-hander Norm Charlton never felt he could afford to get beat with his fourth-best pitch when he was closing games. But serving in a different capacity with the Orioles, and mired in another slump, he decided to expand his repertoire.
Charlton estimated that he threw five changeups yesterday as part of 2 2/3 shutout innings in the Orioles' 9-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Camden Yards. "I hadn't thrown a changeup since '91," he said.
Difficult times called for different measures.
Charlton had been scored upon in three straight appearances, allowing six runs in 2 2/3 innings. He did pick up a win during that time, against the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday, but only when the Orioles rallied for two runs in the bottom of the 10th inning after Ken Griffey had homered off Charlton.
Replacing Alan Mills in the sixth inning yesterday, Charlton retired eight of the nine batters he faced, the exception a leadoff double by Andruw Jones in the seventh. Of his 41 pitches, 27 were strikes.
"I had been working on it a little bit when I was throwing on the side," he said. "It's something I can throw 2-0, 2-1, in a fastball count. Basically, they see a forkball coming in a fastball count, or a slider, they're going to take it. It's something that looks more like a fastball and I have a chance of them swinging at it. It happened a couple times today."
Catcher Lenny Webster said: "I guess that's a pitch he'll be using a little bit more. He got a couple outs with it."
Tavarez debuts ...
Jesus Tavarez made his Orioles debut, replacing Eric Davis in right field in the ninth inning with the Braves ahead 7-0. He batted against Atlanta ace Greg Maddux, tapping the ball in front of the plate and being thrown out by catcher Eddie Perez.
Tavarez was getting ready for a Triple-A game in Pawtucket, R.I., on Saturday when he was summoned by Rochester manager Marv Foley and told of his promotion. Tavarez is filling in for Jeffrey Hammonds, who went on the 15-day disabled list with muscle spasms in his back.
"It caught me by surprise," Tavarez said of the promotion.
Slowed early in the season by a pulled hamstring, Tavarez had hit safely in 16 of his past 20 games, batting .317 (26-for-82) with three doubles, eight RBIs, 11 stolen bases and 16 runs. For the year, he was hitting .267 (44-for-165) in 44 games, with six doubles, one triple, 14 RBIs and 24 runs.
Tavarez, 27, made a strong impression on manager Ray Miller and his staff at spring training, batting .325 (13-for-40) with three doubles, one homer, six RBIs and three steals. He was 2-for-4 as a pinch hitter. Few games went by without Miller commenting on something Tavarez had done.
"He can play all three outfield positions, he's got some speed, and I don't think he's a slap hitter," Miller said. "I know some people have tried to make him a slap hitter, but in spring training we asked him to try to work the count, and if he got two strikes on him, then become a slap hitter. But if he got it to 3-1, let it go."
With Davis still bothered by some swelling in his right elbow, Miller will use Tavarez in the late innings. Tavarez also gives Miller another option in center field if he chooses to rest Brady Anderson.
"And he's a switch-hitter. A manager will take as many of those as he can get," Miller said.
Tavarez had spent parts of the past four seasons in the majors, the first three with the Florida Marlins after they chose him from the Seattle organization in the expansion draft. He got into 42 games with the Boston Red Sox last year, batting .174 (12-for-69) with nine RBIs. His best season was 1995, when he hit .289 (55-for-190) with two homers and 13 RBIs.
"I'll go wherever they need me," said Tavarez, who began switch-hitting five years ago after batting exclusively from the right side. "I'll hit, play defense, run, whatever. I'm ready."
... and Dykhoff, too
Miller said yesterday morning that he was hoping to get rookie left-hander Radhames Dykhoff into the game, perhaps to face one hitter "and see what I've got."
Dykhoff ended up facing six of them, all in the ninth inning. And he fit in nicely with the other Orioles pitchers, getting hit in the right shin by a sharp bouncer from Danny Bautista. Welcome to the club.
"He threw the ball over the plate," Miller said. "He also became the 12th pitcher to get hit on our mound."
Dykhoff walked the first batter he faced, Gerald Williams, on four pitches. He struck out Michael Tucker, but Jones moved Williams to third with a double down the left-field line. Perez grounded to short, scoring Williams, and Jones came home when Bautista's ball hit Dykhoff on one hop and rolled into shallow left field.
Dykhoff joined a bullpen that was 6-9 with a 5.44 ERA and 14 saves in 23 chances before yesterday. He had been 2-0 with a 1.72 ERA in 20 appearances at Double-A Bowie, not allowing a run in his past 14 innings.
Miller said pitching coach Mike Flanagan had expressed some concern about Dykhoff relying mostly on a four-seam fastball.