Key ready in relief, but end of career could be closing in Veteran still feeling pain, may face another DL stint

Orioles Notebook

August 12, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Ray Miller classified Jimmy Key as available in relief last night. That may be a short-lived condition.

Key continues to experience persistent pain around his left rotator cuff and says his availability is based on "how much I can take it." He warmed up the previous two games before last night and admittedly required significant time to ease the ache that accompanies every attempt.

"It bothers me for a while when I get up to throw. But when I get in there, adrenalin takes over. I don't feel it quite as much."

Key acknowledges his days as a starting pitcher are done. His abortive July 30 appearance in Detroit visibly hurt him and Miller said yesterday Key may return to the disabled list when Arthur Rhodes (sore elbow) is activated. Rhodes is tentatively scheduled to make a rehab appearance at Bowie this weekend and could return during next week's homestand. Other options remain, such as optioning outfielder Rich Becker or left-handed middle reliever Doug Johns. However, Key's condition leaves him the more obvious alternative.

"Nobody wants to go through their last year not being able to pitch. I told them I'd try to do what I could," Key said. "The only reason I'm doing it is because we've got a shot."

Should Key be put on the disabled list for the second time this season, it will likely represent the end to a standout 15-year career. He already has endured three surgeries on his left shoulder and insists he will not authorize a fourth merely to keep pitching.

"I'm going to have to have surgery if I'm going to pitch," he said, "and I don't want to do it."

Miller says he prefers to use Key in the middle of innings, primarily against left-handed hitters. However, the approach means there is no guarantee Key will enter when he warms up. The cumulative toll of warming can leave him unavailable for the next day whether he actually appears or not.

"It hurts. I don't think there's any secret about that. But I'm willing to do whatever I can to help the team. It became obvious in Detroit that I'm out of the picture as far as starting goes. So I'm willing to try this," Key said.

Key, 37, has one victory since April 30. He landed on the disabled list May 21 because of rotator cuff pain but has endured with the help of several cortisone injections.

"I really haven't given a whole lot of thought to next year yet," says Key, a pending free agent. "I'm trying to get through this season first."

Davis sits on a streak

Miller held to Monday's pledge to rest Eric Davis last night despite a club-record 26-game hitting streak. Davis, only nine games shy of reaching Miller's spring-training estimate of 100 games played, had not missed a game since the All-Star break and is batting .389 with 10 home runs during his streak. Miller instead started Willie Greene in right field and used Harold Baines as designated hitter against Devil Rays right-hander Julio Santana.

"I just want to give his legs a rest," said Miller. "He's pretty much been going non-stop. With [today's] game [12: 35 p.m. start], it's like playing a doubleheader."

Davis has narrowly kept the streak percolating the last nine games. He has one hit in seven of the nine games and is 11-for-38 (.290) over that span.

Promoting unity

As part of their push to codify instruction throughout the organization, Miller says next season the Orioles will rotate their minor-league coaches through the major-league clubhouse each homestand. The Philadelphia Phillies implemented the policy this season in hopes of better preparing their prospects for the major leagues. Such exposure allows the guest coaches to become better versed in the big club's signs, plays and policies. Rochester's Marv Foley will be promoted after the International League season ends next month.

Given the Orioles and their minor-league affiliates work at separate facilities during spring training, the policy may also foster better communication between the major and minor leagues.

"People say we don't talk to anybody. Well, we don't get to see anybody," Miller said. "If I don't see them, I don't know the people I'm talking to."

Around the horn

The Orioles suffered a loss in Monday's 2-1 win. Their club record of 20 consecutive games with a home run was halted. After going homerless in last night's game, they have homered in 27 of 30 games since the break. At the break, the Orioles were averaging 4.8 runs per game. Since, they have averaged 6.4 runs. Scott Erickson attempts to halt a troubled string of three starts this afternoon against Devil Rays left-hander Wilson Alvarez. Consider this statistical oddity: The Orioles have committed the fewest errors (59) in the major leagues and allowed only 23 unearned runs in 1,042 1/3 innings pitched. However, 13 of the unearned runs have come during Erickson's 176 2/3 innings. Assistant general manager Kevin Malone says the Orioles may not be through with trades. The club is seeking more right-handed hitting and also may be pushing for another left-handed reliever.

Pub Date: 8/12/98

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