Club opts to sever ties with Mathews Reliever must be dealt or released within 7 days


July 01, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

A season of disappointment has begun to produce fallout. The Orioles delivered on a week-old promise of change yesterday when they designated star-crossed reliever Terry Mathews for assignment and shook up the batting order before last night's game against the Florida Marlins.

The Orioles have seven days in which to trade Mathews, 33, or else they must release him. If he is not dealt, the Orioles are liable for Mathews' entire $865,000 salary. The Houston Astros apparently are interested in obtaining him.

Though 0-1 with a 6.20 ERA in 17 appearances this season, Mathews had shown improvement in five outings since leaving the disabled list June 17. Last week against the Mets in New York, he insisted he felt comfortable on the mound for the first time since last season and appeared to back up the claim with an altered delivery and improved command.

Frustrated by a lack of time in critical situations, Mathews quarreled with manager Ray Miller after being removed from a June 19 game. The two engaged in a heated dugout shouting match. Later, Mathews admitted the error was his.

Mathews said he did not believe his spat with Miller was a factor in the move. The source could be traced for months.

"That's one thing about this game. It's not just based on a few outings. It's based on long-term," Mathews said.

The end for Mathews began with a poor second half last season. His 5.52 ERA after the All-Star Game was more than two points higher than before (3.34). He allowed six home runs in his last 19 games after yielding two in his first 38.

The decline bottomed out in Game 3 of the AL Division Series against Seattle. He surrendered two home runs in one inning and was booed from the field by an unimpressed Camden Yards crowd.

Then-manager Davey Johnson later said he would not pitch Mathews at home for the rest of the postseason. Johnson then outdid himself. Mathews didn't pitch in the Orioles' seven remaining playoff games.

In part because of the abuse heaped upon Mathews, a chain-link fence was hastily erected as a buffer between the stands and Orioles' bullpen.

"Everyone looks for a scapegoat," Mathews said. "It's kind of hard if you get in a certain situation and become that guy. It's very hard to get rid of that in that town. It's always easier to blame someone for what's going on than having no answer at all."

Miller had strongly hinted a move was in order. The decision appeared a tossup between Mathews and left-hander Norm Charlton, whose 7.09 ERA is almost a point higher than Mathews'.

Yet Miller insisted he "never thought about releasing him per se" and pointed to Charlton's superior strikeout numbers (38, compared with Mathews' 10). Charlton has allowed 67 base runners in 33 innings, compared with Mathews' 34 in 20 1/3 innings.

"The only thing that's been bad about Norm this year is his VTC grab-bag consistency," Miller said. "What am I going to get? Sometimes he comes in and strikes out the side. Other times he comes in and can't get anybody out. But he gives me an effort every time out."

Pub Date: 7/01/98

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