Miller bends on closer's job, eyes flexibility

O's manager decides to `mix and match' with Timlin, Rhodes

`It's fair to both of them'

Timlin bypassed Wed., as Rhodes gets 1st save

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 Edison International 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 the reliever's throwing error on a potential double-play grounder. Timlin has blown three of nine save chances and allowed four of nine inherited runners to score.

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. That's what I decided," Miller said. "I think that it's fair to both of them and I think it's fair to the ballclub."

On Wednesday, left-handed hitters Mo Vaughn and Garret Anderson were due to lead off the ninth for Anaheim. Both had homered earlier in the game 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 Wednesday night while celebrating just his team's fifth win in 21 road games. "I hope it works out for them."

This isn't the first time in his two seasons as Orioles manager that Miller has challenged his closer. A year ago Miller used Ponson to close a game in Oakland while Armando Benitez served an eight-game suspension for his part in an on-field brawl with the New York Yankees. Ponson gained a save and, rather than downplay its significance, Miller used it to prod Benitez.

Unlike the departed Benitez, Timlin's issues are solely performance-related. He has unfailingly addressed his failures at a time when relief roles have been clouded.

Repeatedly asked to pitch in the eighth as well as the ninth inning, Timlin has struggled with consistency. Last Saturday's fielding mental lapse during the Rangers' telling four-run ninth especially peeved Miller, who struggled to contain himself afterward. Coincidentally, Rhodes wasn't available that game after warming up the previous four days.

"They haven't told me anything. I've just been coming to the ballgame every day, getting ready for the game, and that's it," Rhodes said.

The Orioles invested heavily in Timlin last winter, signing him to a four-year, $16 million deal. Though able to then trade Benitez for Gold Glove catcher Charles Johnson, the term of Timlin's contract brought internal criticism upon general manager Frank Wren. Timlin became the first Orioles reliever to receive anything more than two guaranteed years.

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. There are going to be saves for everybody.

"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."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Oakland Athletics

Site: Oakland (Calif.) Coliseum

Time: 10: 35

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM) Starters: O's Mike Mussina (7-1, 4.45) vs. A's Tom Candiotti (2-5, 6.90)

Late O's game

Last night's

Orioles-Angels game at Edison International Field in Anaheim, Calif., did not end in time to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions or on the Internet at http: //www.sunspot.net. For a report on last night's game and other Orioles information, call SunDial at 410-783-1800, ext. 5023 (in Anne Arundel County, call 410-268-7736, ext. 5023).

Pub Date: 5/28/99

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