Miller opts to bend on closer job, share role

Sidelight

Manager to `mix, match' between Timlin, Rhodes

May 28, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Given eight innings by Sidney Ponson, the Orioles celebrated a 3-2 win over the Anaheim Angels on Wednesday night but left the field wondering about the game's ending.

His patience exhausted by a string of poor late-inning performances, manager Ray Miller bypassed closer Mike Timlin in favor of left-hander Arthur Rhodes during a tense ninth inning that ended nervously, with a drive by the Angels' Todd Greene chasing B. J. Surhoff to the left-field wall.

The save was the seventh of Rhodes' career and the first by any reliever other than Timlin this season. Miller suggested it would not be the last.

Timlin (1-4, 5.06) suffered his fourth loss last Saturday after allowing the Texas Rangers three runs during a four-run ninth inning that also included his throwing error on a potential double-play grounder. Timlin had blown three of nine save chances before last night.

Miller and pitching coach Bruce Kison have noticed Timlin's inability to consistently pitch down in the strike zone. While addressing it, Miller intends to become more flexible in late innings.

"I'm going to go to Arthur in the eighth or Timlin in the eighth depending on where we are in the lineup," Miller said. "I think that it's fair to both of them."

True to his word, Miller summoned Timlin last night, and the right-hander closed down an Angels threat in the eighth inning, pitching two perfect innings to record his seventh save in the Orioles' 6-3 victory.

On Wednesday, left-handed hitters Mo Vaughn and Garret Anderson were due to lead off the ninth for Anaheim. Both had homered earlier against Ponson, making Miller's decision to lift Ponson despite only 98 pitches an automatic one. But rather than summon Timlin to face the right-handed hitting Greene, Miller allowed Rhodes to press on.

Barely one week after downplaying any potential intrigue surrounding Timlin's status, Miller referred to a "competition" between the two relievers.

"I enjoy the competition," Miller said. "I hope it works out for them."

Wednesday night's move sent a tremor through the bullpen. Timlin rationalized it as a natural answer to two left-handed hitters. However, Rhodes said, "I was a little surprised. We've got a closer on the team, Mike Timlin. He's just been struggling throwing the ball. That's it. He's going to come back and he's going to do a better job."

Miller said he will weigh each game individually rather than depend solely on either pitcher. Rhodes, whom Miller classified as "an enigma" last weekend, is among the league's most powerful left-handers but is hindered by several factors preventing his use on more than two consecutive days.

"I'll probably mix and match," Miller said. "I haven't given up on anybody but I would like to see Mr. Timlin get a couple of outings where he gets a couple of outs and feels better about himself. We've worked with him on the side. I haven't taken [closing] away from him. But I also said in spring training to him and Rhodes that I would alternate depending on where they are in the lineup.

"To be perfectly honest, right now I want somebody to take hold of it. If Arthur can take it and run with it for a while and he gets a day off, and then Timlin takes it and runs with it for a while, that's what it's all about."

Kison said Timlin needs to become more conscious of throwing "down" rather than getting under his pitches. Whatever difficulties he may be experiencing, Timlin sees the adjustment as minor.

"It's not like I'm in some never-never land somewhere," Timlin said. "I'm not far from where I need to be. I'm here to pitch when I'm called upon. That's it."

Pub Date: 5/28/99

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