Rodriguez to replace Smith in rotation Winless ex-Padre hopes change 'will click for me'


July 04, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- The Orioles apparently will shave a few more years off their starting rotation. By doing so, manager Ray Miller also hopes to remove some pressure from one of his pitchers.

Miller said yesterday that Nerio Rodriguez, 25, most likely will slide into the No. 5 spot and take Pete Smith's turn July 13 against the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards. It would be Rodriguez's third start this season, and the first since coming off the disabled list June 30 when reliever Terry Mathews was designated for assignment.

Smith, 32, will go to the bullpen, at least temporarily. He hasn't lasted more than five innings in any of his four Orioles starts since being claimed off waivers from San Diego.

He was removed after four innings and 85 pitches Wednesday night against Florida. He gave up four runs, walked four -- including three in the first inning -- threw two wild pitches and committed a balk. The wreckage left Smith with an 0-3 record and 9.50 ERA.

Miller spoke with Smith on Thursday about using him out of the bullpen and reducing the amount of idle time between appearances. "He said, 'I'm just kind of in a little funk. I'm trying to impress you and everybody and I'm putting too much pressure on myself,' " Miller said.

"I like his stuff. His stuff is fine. He just has to be more aggressive in the strike zone. I just think he's trying to be so precise with each pitch and that's why I told him after his last start that the quality of the pitch has to take a little precedent over location sometimes, especially early in the count."

Smith, whose entire career had been spent in the National League, had asked for his release from the Padres over dissatisfaction with being taken out of the rotation. But there was no resistance with the latest move.

"I'm just trying to find a groove," he said. "I want to help this team. It's a matter of whatever it takes for me to do that. I'm open to anything. Maybe it's just one or two outings and it'll click for me.

"I've got to learn this new strike zone and learn the hitters. Over in the National League you get those corners. Over here you don't. I'm learning I have to be more aggressive in the zone."

Miller prefers to start Rodriguez over left-hander Doug Johns, who has bounced between the rotation and bullpen. Serving in the middle relief role Wednesday that Miller had envisioned for him since spring training, Johns limited Florida to one run and three hits in five innings after replacing Smith.

"[Smith] and Johns and [Norm] Charlton would be a much better bridge than I've had, and that means Rodriguez has to start," Miller said. "That's what I'm thinking about right now, but it's not cut in stone.

"Except for the last start, Smith has been fairly effective the first couple innings. In my mind I'm saying, 'Do I want a guy starting who's an 80-pitch pitcher, or do I want a guy who's younger and stronger and who's not used to relieving?' "

Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson, rookie Sidney Ponson and Doug Drabek will start the four games against Boston after the All-Star break. Rodriguez, whose option to Triple-A Rochester was voided on May 28 when the club learned he had tendinitis in his right shoulder, will open the two-game series against the Blue Jays.

Rodriguez's last appearance with the Orioles was a May 25 start in Seattle, when he allowed five runs and five hits in 1 1/3 innings. The loss left his record at 0-2 with a 14.21 ERA.

"I think I'm ready now," he said. "I feel a lot better because I've got my slider back. I tried before and it wasn't there. But I threw in the 'pen two days ago and it feels good."

Pub Date: 7/04/98


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