Oquist savors victory in first shot at former team

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

He escapes jams in 1st, 2nd

'penned-up Linton adapts

April 25, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Last season, former Oriole Mike Oquist had the worst road ERA in the majors at 7.79, more than a full run ahead of the Chicago White Sox's Jaime Navarro. Opponents batted .328 against him.

Yesterday, he became the latest punching bag to flatten the Orioles.

Oquist didn't allow a run in 5 2/3 innings. He also didn't record a strikeout but managed to pick up his 18th career victory as the Oakland Athletics defeated the Orioles for the first time in nine games, 3-0.

This was Oquist's first career appearance against the club that brought him to the majors in 1993. He pitched in 47 games with the Orioles, including nine starts, and went 5-4 with a 5.08 ERA before joining San Diego in 1996.

"Anytime you pitch well against the team you came up with, you really want to do that," he said. "Being this is the first time I've faced them since leaving, it's nice."

A nonroster player this spring, Oquist began the season at Triple-A Vancouver before splitting his first two A's decisions.

The Orioles loaded the bases against him in the first inning, but Jeff Conine grounded into a force. In the second, Delino DeShields reached third with one out only to be stranded.

"He's the kind of guy we should have gotten to, and we didn't," said Orioles manager Ray Miller.

Linton adapting to 'pen

As Rocky Coppinger prepares for today's start against Oakland, Doug Linton remains on call in the bullpen after getting bumped from the rotation.

Linton made two starts for the Orioles, most recently April 17 in Toronto, when he allowed five runs in 6 1/3 innings. He threw 115 pitches, then was called upon by Miller four nights later in Tampa. Told earlier by coach Bruce Kison that he'd probably get another day's rest, Linton gave up a three-run homer to the first batter he faced, Quinton McCracken.

He had entered the game out of necessity in the fourth inning after Mike Mussina allowed eight runs and 11 hits. Two more runs were charged to him on McCracken's homer.

"You don't ever expect Mussina to get hit around like that, so it just came down to those being the circumstances where they put me in the game," said Linton, who has made 29 starts among his 94 major-league appearances. "I felt fine, but every fastball I threw was up."

Having been out of the majors since 1996 because of "Tommy John" surgery, Linton isn't complaining about going to the bullpen. It beats going to the minors, where he spent all last season. Still, he clearly prefers to remain a starter, but Miller prefers a hard thrower like Coppinger in that role.

"After we left Toronto, on the plane [Miller] told me this wasn't a demotion. It was a promotion because we needed some help in the bullpen to bridge the gap between the starters and [Mike] Timlin. Basically, he felt this would be a good role for me," Linton said.

"Ray said he wanted to be able to use me two or three times in a week instead of once. He feels it will benefit the team more. I don't feel bad about it, but I enjoy starting. It's nice to know when you're going to pitch. Now, I have to be ready to pitch every day, so that's just something I've got to get geared up for. I'll have to adapt."

With Doug Johns optioned to Triple-A Rochester, Miller sought another long reliever to join Ricky Bones. The demand increased this season as Orioles starters struggled to get through the early innings and keep their pitch counts down.

Johnson, Erickson paired

Lenny Webster caught Scott Erickson's first two starts this season, but has given way to Charles Johnson in the right-hander's last two outings, including yesterday.

Miller seemed to be leaning toward continuing to pair Erickson with Webster, an arrangement that dates to their days in Minnesota. Instead, he had Webster catch Juan Guzman Friday night and started Johnson yesterday.

"I want to use them both," Miller said. "Obviously I'm trying to keep Lenny's bat in the lineup."

He's also trying to heat up Johnson's. The four-time Gold Glove winner is hitting .158 after going 0-for-4 yesterday. He did fly to the warning track in left field in the seventh after nearly hitting one out Friday night.

"Crow [hitting coach Terry Crowley] is real happy with him. He's with him every day, and he comes back and says things look good," Miller said. "I think it's just a matter of, pop a couple and take a little pressure off."

Said Johnson: "I'm a grinder. I keep pushing it."

Around the horn

Oakland left fielder Ben Grieve was a late scratch because of the flu. Tim Raines took his place. About 3,000 Little League players and coaches circled the field before the game as part of Little League Days, and roughly 6,000 are expected today. Cal Ripken, on the disabled list with pain in his lower back, stood in front of the Orioles' dugout and greeted the players as they passed before joining his son, Ryan, in the parade. Oakland's Tony Phillips moved past Rusty Staub into 31st place on baseball's all-time walks list with 1,256.

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