Key seeks clues on return road Frustrated by shoulder, he says 'pretty soon I'm going to need to test it'

Orioles Notebook

June 22, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Jimmy Key is scheduled to do some light throwing again today to "see what happens," but said he still has no clue when he can try it from a mound.

Key hasn't pitched since May 20 because of inflammation in his left rotator cuff. A second cortisone injection has lessened the discomfort and allowed him to exercise with cuff weights, but his recovery continues to be a slow process.

"It's getting better. It's going a little slower than I hoped at the start, but we're dealing with something that's not right and it takes time," he said at his locker before yesterday's 7-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards.

"There's going to come a time pretty soon where I'm going to need to test it. I'm going to have to see if I'm going to pitch again this year. I don't know when that time is going to be."

Citing Key's abilities as a big-game pitcher, manager Ray Miller said he wants the left-hander healthy the second half of the season as his club makes a playoff push. "I don't care if it's just five innings [per start]," Miller said.

Key, 37, said he couldn't settle for working in such a limited capacity.

"I haven't talked to Ray about anything like that, but if I can't come back and be at least close to the pitcher I was when they brought me over here -- that wasn't a five-inning pitcher -- I don't think that would be good enough for me," he said.

"If I can't pitch pretty much close to the level I always pitched at, that would be hard for me to deal with. That would be hard for me to do, to go out there knowing 70 pitches and I'm out. I may as well be in the bullpen. You're going to kill the bullpen every fifth day if you do that.

"We haven't even gotten close to being able to talk about that yet. I haven't expressed that opinion to him, but I will if need be. I don't think I'd be satisfied with that."

Key already has said he won't undergo another operation just to prolong his baseball career. He's had four surgical procedures on his left shoulder, including one that kept him out for most of the 1995 season.

If Key is able to rid himself of the discomfort and build back his arm strength, he said yesterday that he would like to make at least one rehab start in the minors. "When I've been through it before, as far as rehabbing, it's always helped," he said.

"I just hope we get to the point where we are going to rehab. That would be great."

Becker gets first start

Rich Becker made his first start with the Orioles, replacing B. J. Surhoff in left field. Becker had appeared in all four games since being claimed off waivers from the New York Mets, getting a pinch-hit single Friday night.

He went 1-for-4 yesterday, including a strikeout with the bases loaded to end the first inning. He also lined into a double play to end the third. Becker was hitting .294 (5-for-17) lifetime against Toronto right-hander Pat Hentgen. Surhoff was batting .212 (7-for-33).

Miller said he believed Surhoff needed a rest. Surhoff has appeared in every game this season, including 68 starts. He flied out as a pinch hitter in the ninth yesterday.

"He didn't do a whole lot [Saturday] and he usually works himself to death," Miller said.

Miller added that he normally would wait until the opposition was starting a left-hander, "but we don't see lefties anymore. We've got four righties coming up against the Mets."

Miller had Joe Carter in right field and Harold Baines as his designated hitter. He expressed a desire to get both Carter and Eric Davis in the lineup at the same time, but Baines' hot bat won't allow it. His 2-for-3 day with a homer and two walks made him 10-for-17 in this series and 30-for-82 (.366) with 20 RBIs in his last 25 games.

"Baines has been knocking the heck out of whoever's pitching and it's kind of hard to take him out of there. But those are good problems for a manager," Miller said.

New York, New York

Miller is swimming in unchartered waters with back-to-back series against the same team. The Orioles play two games against the Mets at Camden Yards, beginning tonight, then go to Shea Stadium for two more before flying to Montreal.

"I've never had a home-and-away during the regular season. I don't think it's ever been done," he said. "Not only is it home-and-away, it's a different set of rules [in the American League and National League parks]" regarding use of the designated hitter.

On the injury front

Miller said outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds, who remains on the disabled list while regaining the feeling in his left side, probably will go on a rehab assignment at Double-A Bowie when he's cleared to begin playing. It's expected to be at least two weeks before he gets to that point. Pitching coach Mike Flanagan has told Miller that right-hander Nerio Rodriguez is "very close" to returning from the DL. Rodriguez, who was found to have tendinitis in his right shoulder after the club tried to send him back to Triple-A Rochester May 26, has been throwing from the bullpen mound.

Around the horn

The series drew 189,919, the second-largest turnout for a four-game series at Camden Yards. The record is 190,967, also against the Blue Jays, June 26-29 of last year. The Orioles allowed their 11th unearned run, tied with the New York Yankees for fewest in the AL. They're 0-9 when permitting an unearned run. Toronto, last in the AL in double plays, turned three. Left-hander Matt Riley, the Orioles' third-round pick last year, got his first win with Single-A Delmarva on Saturday. He went five innings, allowing one run and two hits, and striking out seven. He had thrown seven scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts before Saturday. That same night at Double-A Bowie, Rocky Coppinger tossed six shutout innings, allowing only an infield hit and getting no decision in the Baysox's 1-0 loss.

Pub Date: 6/22/98

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