Pitching from tough stretch, Orosco fine

Sidelight

42-year-old lefty not rattled by blooming April ERA

May 26, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Jesse Orosco speaks with the calm of someone who since 1979 has seen it all, or at least very much. He has been to the mound more than 1,000 times and struck out more than 1,000 hitters in more than 1,100 innings. He knows the game, knows his role and knows himself.

Right now Orosco knows he's struggling. Like many at an advanced age, Orosco takes time to get going. Except for celebrating his birthday on the 21st, April is his unkindest month as suggested by last season's 9.95 ERA for the month in 10 appearances and this year's 9.39 ERA, also in 10 outings.

Good teams can afford patience. Cursed by its $84 million payroll, this Orioles team fidgets. A faltering starting rotation caused manager Ray Miller to repeatedly raid the bullpen in early innings, often dropping Orosco into blowout situations that hardly excite a player who has appeared in four League Championship Series, two World Series, and threw the final pitch of the 1986 Fall Classic against the Boston Red Sox.

"I've probably been in 17 or 18 games," Orosco said before dropping his ERA to 8.49 in last night's series opener against the Anaheim Angels. "The hardest thing has been in 13 or 14 of them we've been losing. Once we get on a roll, everything starts working out.

"We won those five games in a row and I pitched in a couple and pitched really well. But I was throwing terrible before that. I really think I've gotten things worked out now."

Orosco is the ultimate specialist -- a left-hander summoned to retire left-handed hitters, then leave the stage for a right-handed setup man or closer Mike Timlin. Orosco's success in the role has allowed him to stalk Dennis Eckersley's record for career appearances and Kent Tekulve's mark for career relief appearances. Orosco, 42, should bump Tekulve next month and Eckersley in early August barring disruption of his four-year average of 68 appearances with the Orioles.

He was called on to perform his specialty last night, facing three consecutive left-handed hitters. Orosco sandwiched a strikeout of the two-homer Garret Anderson and flyout by Chris Pritchett around a walk to emerge unscathed after entering the eighth inning with two on and one out.

Following Saturday's collapse against Texas, Miller subtly criticized the left-hander, implying a lack of focus. Orosco surrendered a single to left-handed hitter Rafael Palmeiro and walked Ivan Rodriguez. Palmeiro eventually scored the first of the Rangers' five runs in the last two innings. The Rangers won 8-7 and Miller hardly contained his bullpen frustration.

"I don't know whether Jesse thinks I'm bringing him to pitch a whole inning or what," he said. "But basically I'm bringing him in for a couple hitters."

Referring to the two base runners Orosco allowed Saturday, Miller said, "When he doesn't get the two outs, you say, `We'll do it tomorrow.' And if he doesn't get those two you say, `We'll do it tomorrow.' Pretty soon, three days go by and that's six guys you don't get out. That's not too good. You don't quit on Jesse. You keep putting him in that spot. He's got a pretty remarkable track record. Usually in April he has some problems. But now we're toward the end of May. He's going to have to get better."

Orosco still throws with the same velocity as a decade ago, but he relies heavily on a curveball against left-handed hitters. Typically, the pitch waits until warm weather to find its full movement. Not until recently did Orosco experience positive returns.

"It's just one of those things where you hit a slump and have to work your way out. I haven't been really concerned. If my arm hurt, then I'd be concerned. But my arm feels great. I feel like I still have a lot of life in me," he said.

Pub Date: 5/26/99

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