It was the closest Jimmy Key had gotten to pitching in a game since May 20. There were no hitters standing in front of him and his throwing was confined to the bullpen. But it seemed real enough.
Key pitched three simulated innings yesterday, the latest indication that he's drawing closer to returning to the club after being put on the disabled list with an inflamed left rotator cuff.
Key warmed up as he would before making a start, throwing between 50 and 60 pitches. He sat for five minutes, threw 12 more, sat again, threw 12 more, and returned to the bench. Finally, he completed his session with 20 pitches before heading to the clubhouse while the Orioles took batting practice.
"It felt good. It's not getting any worse," he said.
Key's last start came against the New York Yankees almost two months ago. With the Orioles' bullpen a shambles, he threw 100 pitches in 5 2/3 innings and allowed nine runs and 12 hits.
"It's going to take a little while to build my stamina back up, no question," he said. "I'll continue throwing and it'll eventually get there. I'll do some extra running."
Key said he'll probably throw some batting practice tomorrow "to get used to pitching to guys with bats in their hands."
"If everything's still fine, we'll go from there," he said.
Key eventually will go on a rehab assignment, as Scott Kamieniecki has at Double-A Bowie. Kamieniecki made his second start with the Baysox last night, and Ray Miller has the right-hander penciled in to start July 24 against Seattle at Camden Yards. For now, Miller said the rotation will remain the same, with rookies Sidney Ponson and Nerio Rodriguez joining Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson and Doug Drabek.
Rodriguez earned another start by throwing five perfect innings against Toronto and leaving after the sixth with a one-hit shutout.
"He deserves another shot, that's for sure," Miller said.
Not long ago, Miller described Rodriguez as a "two-pitch pitcher," citing a fastball and changeup as an insufficient arsenal. Since then, pitching coach Mike Flanagan has worked with Rodriguez on his slider, altering his grip and finding better results with it.
"It's kind of hard to pitch here without a breaking ball," Miller said. "Not that some guys can't, but if you don't get your changeup over and you're a two-pitch pitcher, they'll sit on the fastball." Jeffrey Hammonds was out of the lineup last night after leaving Monday's game in the sixth inning. It was his first start since May 31. The next one remains a mystery.
Hammonds, who had been on the disabled list with a disk-related nerve irritation in his neck, said he felt some tingling in the back of his left shoulder and down his arm after striking out in the first inning. He lined a single to left field in his next at-bat and hustled to third on B. J. Surhoff's double down the left-field line, sliding to barely beat the throw from Shannon Stewart. He scored on a bloop single by Lenny Webster, but was replaced in right field by Rich Becker in the sixth.
"I didn't want to do anything to hurt myself, and Ray was with me on that one all the way," Hammonds said.
As for his condition yesterday, Hammonds said, "It's not good, not bad. It's still there. It's not like it's going to disappear. Some days it'll feel better than others. I'm in uncharted waters. I'm just trying to find my routine now to see how I can get going."
Hammonds added that he expects to play during the five-game road trip that begins tonight in Texas.
"It's going to be something we'll have to deal with," Miller said. "He can't play every day right now."
Blue Jays first base coach Jack Hubbard said he has been "living a dream" the last five weeks as he has visited his hometown of Baltimore twice for games against the Orioles at Camden Yards.
The two trips have marked Hubbard's first visits of any kind to his hometown since he left in 1984 to scout the Florida area for the Milwaukee Brewers.
"There's nothing better than to return to the field of the team you grew up with and be treated so nicely by all your friends," said the former Calvert Hall and University of Baltimore coach who first realized his dream of stepping on to a major-league field in 1993 when Joe Torre named him first base coach of the St. Louis Cardinals.
But Hubbard's dream that day in 1993 quickly turned into a nightmare when the first three Cardinals batters reached first base in the first inning and all were picked off by Boston Red Sox left-hander Joe Hesketh.
"Everybody has their worst nightmare in life and that was mine," said Hubbard of the exhibition game in St. Petersburg, Fla. "Ozzie Smith, Bernard Gilkey and Ray Lankford all got picked off by Hesketh, who had a great move. All the fans were booing me, Joe Torre was laughing, all the Cardinals players were laughing and they told me to put on somebody else's uniform in the second inning, which I did."