Aggressive approach is Smith's next pitch 0-2 Oriole urged to trust fastball, come over top

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

June 28, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

MONTREAL -- The re-education of Pete Smith continues. Smith may be a 12-year veteran, but he is still adapting to American League ways as well as rediscovering confidence in a fastball once diminished by recurring shoulder problems.

On Wednesday at Camden Yards against the Florida Marlins, Smith will make his fourth start since being acquired from the San Diego Padres. He hopes to receive his first positive return on a more aggressive approach suggested by pitching coach Mike Flanagan, broadcaster and Hall of Famer Jim Palmer and former Atlanta Braves teammate Tom Glavine. Each has made the same observation: Trust in your fastball.

"It's kind of funny. After I made my first start here, Jim Palmer came up to me and said, 'Why don't you use your fastball more?' Then I talked on the phone with Glav[ine] and he said the same thing. Even my wife has said something about it," Smith said after yesterday's side session.

Smith is 0-2 with a somewhat misleading 9.64 ERA in 14 innings since being acquired June 9. He arrived dependent on a curveball-slider combination and a crossfire delivery that immediately caught Flanagan's attention.

Since, Smith and the Orioles' pitching coach have worked on Smith returning to a more over-the-top delivery to go with his greater willingness to use his fastball.

"I think a lot of it came from being hurt for a number of years," said Smith. "When your fastball tops out at 82, you tend to pitch more defensively."

Smith has been plagued throughout his career by high pitch counts. Flanagan's goal is to have Smith average 15 pitches per inning rather than his typical 20.

"I definitely see myself as more than a five- or six-inning pitcher. But part of that is pitching more aggressively," Smith said.

By altering Smith's delivery, Flanagan hopes to enable the veteran to regain control over the outside corner. His previous motion forced Smith to break off his delivery, too often leaving him too far over the plate.

Of the 22 hits Smith has allowed with the Orioles, five have been home runs. He has pitched with the lead in each of his AL starts but hasn't clung to any.

Manager Ray Miller hooked Smith after 4 1/3 innings Wednesday in New York. Smith has yet to pitch into the sixth inning with the Orioles. However, Miller says he plans to leave both Smith and rookie Sidney Ponson (1-6) in the rotation rather than create a vacancy for left-hander Doug Johns.

Right field for Surhoff?

Despite indications that right fielder Eric Davis may be ready to return soon after being hit on the right elbow in New York, Miller has not ruled out moving the sore-armed Davis to left and sliding B. J. Surhoff to right.

"I have thought about it. It is a possibility," said Miller. "B. J. is the best left fielder in the league, but I'd like to have a right fielder out there who can catch and throw the ball."

There is no doubt Davis can go get the ball, but his ability to throw it is highly questionable. He had trouble making strong or accurate throws even before being struck on the elbow by Rick Reed on Wednesday. After being hit, he almost had to walk a ball to the infield. He hasn't appeared in the field since.

Surhoff said he can't remember the last time he played right field and appeared slightly surprised at the suggestion. "I heard something about it a while ago, but nothing recently," he said before last night's game. "It would be different. I'd definitely need to work on it."

Miller's options are limited. He is reluctant to play Joe Carter regularly in right because of Carter's limited range. Rich Becker, who started last night and helped turn a single into a double in Montreal's two-run seventh inning, is not viewed as a starting player. Jeffrey Hammonds is on the disabled list and is in California where he is undergoing treatment for a nerve condition from a personal physician.

Surhoff owns the strongest and most accurate arm of any Orioles outfielder. He already has eight assists this season after leading the club with 11 outfield assists in 1997.

However, right field represents a different look, especially in Camden Yards. Besides playing more slicing fly balls, the right fielder must become comfortable with the inconsistencies of a wall that is part scoreboard, part 8-foot fence.

Around the horn

Only two other active tandems have been teammates as long as Cal Ripken and Brady Anderson, teamed since July 30, 1988. Atlanta pitchers John Smoltz and Tom Glavine have been together since 1988. So, too, have Seattle outfielder Jay Buhner and designated hitter Edgar Martinez. Trivia time: Name the only pitching coach to play his entire career in the American League yet make his major-league debut in a National League park. Answer: Flanagan, who spent his entire 18-year career with the Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, debuted in Shea Stadium against the New York Yankees in 1975. Yankee Stadium was being renovated at the time. Stat of the Day: The Orioles were 83-18 last season when scoring at least four runs. This year they are 29-23 in the same situation. Expos pitcher Marc Valdes will undergo tendon transplant surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right elbow. Chris Hoiles went 2-for-3 and has multiple hits in his last three starts.

Pub Date: 6/28/98

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