Erickson gets wish: starting on 3 days' rest


Winless pitcher pushed up to Saturday vs. Athletics

Coppinger will start Sunday


April 22, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Orioles will attempt to shake starting pitcher Scott Erickson from his season-long funk by allowing him to make his next start on three days' rest Saturday against the Oakland Athletics, an apparent concession to the staff workhorse's plea for more, not less, innings.

"We're going to try this to get him going," said manager Ray Miller. "I think that's better than letting him sit around for five or six days thinking about his last start."

Erickson, the American League leader with 251 1/3 innings pitched last season, has been his own worst enemy in his quest for innings. He is 0-3 with a 12.41 ERA in only 12 1/3 innings covering three starts. Including spring training, he is 0-7. Erickson's 1 2/3-inning effort against the Devil Rays on Tuesday night was his shortest since going the same distance against the Oakland A's on Aug. 20, 1995.

Because he threw only 60 pitches, Miller thought short rest was warranted. An additional benefit is Erickson's subsequent start will be next Thursday on four days' rest.

"At least I'll be throwing the ball more often. There are some things I have to correct. I'm not throwing the ball good," said Erickson.

Such has been the case since late in spring training. The introduction of a March 28 exhibition game in Havana complicated Erickson's preparation. When Juan Guzman objected to appearing in the game, Erickson was assigned the spot and at the same time switched spots with Guzman in the rotation. Erickson also repeatedly chafed at working with five days' rest between starts, something Miller labeled as an "excuse" Tuesday night.

"I'm not going to make excuses for him," Miller said at the time. "Nobody needs excuses. I certainly don't get any."

Erickson met with Miller and pitching coach Bruce Kison for about 10 minutes inside the manager's office. Still sweaty from an extended workout, the pitcher emerged with the two having called at least a temporary truce in their season-long sparring -- Erickson described Miller's message as "a vote of confidence."

Erickson and Kison then compared video from Tuesday's abortive start and Erickson at his best last season.

The Orioles said Rocky Coppinger will make Sunday's start. Jason Johnson and left-hander Terry Burrows had been under consideration but Coppinger's show of greater velocity and control at Rochester separated him.

Miller speculated that Erickson is being tormented by faulty mechanics.

Though any discussion of pitching mechanics has become close to a state secret, some observers believe Erickson has begun to get under his pitches, causing him to push the ball rather than produce sinking by staying on top. "Scotty's a power guy and he's got to power the ball down," said Miller. "If he stands tall he drives the ball down. He's been collapsing."

Looking for work

While the rest of the Orioles bullpen smolders from overuse, closer Mike Timlin is begging for work. Timlin has saved each of the Orioles' three wins but made only two other appearances. Until he walked Devil Rays right fielder Dave Martinez in Tuesday's ninth inning, Timlin had not allowed a base runner this season. Capable of appearing on three consecutive days, Timlin's greatest challenge this season has been maintaining himself during down time.

"[Tuesday] night I came in a little too strong," said Timlin. "Physically, that's bound to happen when you haven't pitched in awhile. You just have to keep yourself under control."

Timlin's appearances have been spotty enough for him to occasionally throw on the side, an unusual practice for a closer. "It's a little sluggish right now but things tend to pick up in the summer. The key is to be ready when that happens."

Around the horn

The latest indictment of Tampa-St. Petersburg's apparent indifference to major-league baseball? The Devil Rays suffered their smallest crowd in franchise history (17,660) on Tuesday night despite the fact they were attempting to bump their record to 8-7, the first time they've been over .500 since April 25, 1997. Meanwhile, promotion guru Mike Veeck staged the Office Secretaries Olympics before last night's game. Veeck said beforehand, "I'll see if I can embarrass myself nationally." Mission accomplished. The Orioles conclude their nine-game road trip tonight before beginning their longest homestand of the season tomorrow vs. Oakland. The Orioles are in a stretch of 15 consecutive games against teams who suffered losing records in 1998. Devil Rays first baseman Fred McGriff left the game after being struck in the face on a throw when scoring in the first inning. The ball hit McGriff near his left eye. Wade Boggs moved to first and Robert Smith took over at third.

Pub Date: 4/22/99

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