Key faces live hitting with no harmful effects Aggressive rehabilitation next after no discomfort

July 17, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Long lost but never forgotten starting pitcher Jimmy Key provided the Orioles another positive sign yesterday when he faced live hitting for the first time since May 20.

Key confronted second baseman Jeff Reboulet, outfielder Rich Becker and draft pick Mamon Tucker during a round of early batting practice.

Key, on the disabled list with an inflamed left shoulder, threw about 40 pitches in 100-degree temperatures and reported no discomfort. The Orioles now can proceed with an aggressive rehabilitation that projects his return for July 31.

Key threw no breaking pitches in the assignment but had no difficulty. Pitching coach Mike Flanagan has constructed a daily routine for Key leading up to July 31. Key will throw in the bullpen tomorrow, pitch five simulated innings Tuesday, another side session Thursday and a rehab start on July 26.

"It was good. Nothing new," said Key.

The Orioles are counting on something from Key if they are to return to contention for a postseason berth. Manager Ray Miller does not discount the possibility of Key's returning to the bullpen in middle relief. Miller cited Key's performance in last October's American League Championship Series as his inspiration. Key, however, insisted earlier in the process that he was pointing his return toward nothing less than a fully functional member of the rotation.

Upon Key's return, Miller would face an interesting roster decision. Nerio Rodriguez would appear the odd man out, especially since his spot in the rotation will be skipped in future weeks. Miller referred to reliever Pete Smith as "an upgrade" over the released Terry Mathews. Smith has given the Orioles consecutive scoreless appearances since leaving the rotation.

Keeping your cool

nTC The dangerous heat wave afflicting the Metroplex hasn't spared The Ballpark. Attendance for early hitting the past two days has consisted of Becker (twice), Reboulet and Tucker, the Orioles' sandwich pick in last month's draft.

Miller has encouraged an abbreviated pre-game routine as players are greeted by triple-digit temperatures and stifling humidity. Players are beyond seeking relief in the clubhouse between innings. "All that does is get you stiff when you have to go back out there," said Eric Davis. "You try to adjust, but it's harder when you come up here, cool off, then have to go back into that."

A long-awaited debut

Joel Bennett waited 7 1/2 seasons and 201 minor-league appearances for Wednesday night's shot at a big-league hitter. Bennett pitched the scoreless ninth inning of the Orioles' 14-3 win over the Rangers despite walking the bases loaded after two outs. "I was telling myself to stay calm about it but my body didn't listen," Bennett recalled. "I got the first two guys [Rusty Greer and Juan Gonzalez] pretty quickly, then I lost it for a while. I got a little nervous."

Bennett, 28, earned his promotion with a 10-0 start at Triple-A Rochester, the best start by a Red Wings pitcher since Mickey Weston went 10-0 in 1990. The Orioles signed him as a minor-league free agent in July 1996 after he spent five seasons in the Boston Red Sox organization and part of 1996 in an independent league.

No Big Unit

General manager Pat Gillick played down any chance of the Orioles' trading for disgruntled Seattle Mariners ace Randy Johnson. Though Gillick spoke last month with Seattle general manager Woody Woodward about a deal, the Mariners' improving fortunes and the steep asking price will likely conspire to chill the market.

"I don't know what they're going to do," said Gillick. "They have [Jeff] Fassero, [Jamie] Moyer and Johnson. That's more than the other two [contending AL West] teams have."

Around the horn

Jesse Orosco has allowed only one run in his past 12 appearances covering 12 1/3 innings. Orosco has 10 strikeouts and two walks in the span. He needs five more appearances to reach 1,000 for his career. When Brady Anderson was caught stealing, it broke a string of 18 straight steals by the team in July. It ended a string of nine straight successes for Anderson. The Orioles are 34-17 when their starting pitcher goes at least six innings, 12-33 when he doesn't. Miller expressed a desire to catch Chris Hoiles more frequently. However, Lenny Webster, starting his second straight game in 100-degree temperatures, broke open a close game with a two-run, third-inning double. Webster has 10 RBIs in his past four starts.

Pub Date: 7/17/98

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