Orioles appear ready to call on Pickering

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Sore shoulder on mend, promotion due for slugger

April 26, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The Orioles could be preparing for another roster move this week, with Triple-A first baseman Calvin Pickering possibly headed to Baltimore.

Pickering has appeared in five games with Rochester, batting .294, but a sore shoulder kept him out of the lineup for the past week. He's expected to resume playing tomorrow, and Orioles manager Ray Miller said he could be ready in three or four days.

Ready to join the Orioles?

"I would think so," Miller said yesterday, adding that Will Clark won't rejoin the club for another two or three weeks.

"They say [Pickering's shoulder] is OK. They did an MRI and there's no damage."

Pickering would have been recalled last Monday when Clark went on the DL with a fractured left thumb. Instead, the club summoned middle infielder Jesse Garcia, who most likely would go back to Rochester if Pickering is added.

By having Pickering here, Miller could return Jeff Conine to his intended role as spare outfielder/first baseman and right-handed designated hitter. Conine made his sixth consecutive start at first base yesterday, putting another crimp in Miller's bench.

Coming off a season when he was named the Eastern League's Player of the Year at Double-A Bowie, Pickering hit .250 with one homer and eight walks in spring training. He also homered off Mike Mussina in an intrasquad game, and showed some improvement defensively at first base.

Lineup shuffle

Miller met with some of his coaches in his office after Saturday's game, trying to settle on a lineup for yesterday. None of the combinations suggested an offensive uprising, though it eventually came with an eight-run seventh inning that was wasted in an 11-10 loss to Oakland.

"This is probably the toughest lineup I've ever written," he said.

There weren't many favorable matchups with Oakland left-hander Kenny Rogers. Miller had wanted to sit two of his left-handed hitters, Brady Anderson and B. J. Surhoff, who were batting .147 and .182, respectively, against Rogers, but found it too disruptive to the order.

Surhoff is needed in the third slot with Clark on the DL. Otherwise, Miller was looking at the possibility of sliding Rich Amaral there, not the ideal spot for someone who began yesterday 0-for-11, though he was a .375 lifetime hitter against Rogers coming in and singled in the fifth inning.

Amaral served as the designated hitter because Conine was needed again at first base, Harold Baines was 1-for-13 against Rogers and Miller wanted to keep Lenny Webster available to catch in case he pinch-hit for Charles Johnson -- which he did with Delino DeShields in the seventh.

Miller also toyed with the idea of batting Willis Otanez third before deciding to play Surhoff, who went 1-for-3 with two strikeouts against Rogers. And he had to take into account that left-handers were hitting .444 (8-for-18) against Rogers, further swaying him to keep Anderson and Surhoff off the bench.

"You keep searching and you write 42 lineups and you keep saying, `I don't want to change the lineup around too much,' " Miller said.

Encouragement from Torre

With speculation increasing that Miller's time as manager is nearing an end, he's found solace in a conversation he had earlier this season with Joe Torre, who had been fired by three organizations before winning two world championships with the New York Yankees.

"He told me, `Ray, I was considered a dummy three years ago. I'm great now. They're giving me raises and everything,' " Miller said. "He said, `About the only thing I'm doing different is, when I have a guy standing on the hill for eight innings, I'm pretty smart in the ninth.' "

Miller also has spoken with Jim Leyland, the manager in Pittsburgh when Miller was pitching coach, and current Pirates manager Gene Lamont, plus a host of former players. They all offer encouragement, though Miller said he's not seeking it. They also make the same observation, that the starting pitching has to improve. Many of the problems, they say, are out of the manager's hands.

"You can sit here and tear yourself apart, or everybody can second-guess everything I do," Miller said, "but the bottom line is there are people being paid pretty well out there and they're supposed to produce, and they're not."

Around the horn

Oakland had been 0-9 when trailing after eight innings. The three games against Kansas City, beginning tomorrow, are being billed as College Nights at Camden Yards. College students can purchase $13 upper reserved seats for $8. To receive the discount, they should call the ticket office at 410-685-9800.

Pub Date: 4/26/99

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