Big sigh of relief in bullpen


Healthy Kamieniecki has his rhythm again

July 31, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- Physically, it makes no difference to Scott Kamieniecki whether he's starting a game or coming in from the bullpen. The mound is the same distance from home plate and the objective still is to retire each hitter.

"Pitching is pitching," he said.

But he sure is making it look easier these days.

Banished to the minors after two injury-delayed starts, both poor outings, Kamieniecki is healthy and thriving as a middle- and late-innings option for manager Ray Miller. He had retired 18 of his past 20 batters before last night, lowering his ERA to 3.32 in 15 relief appearances.

Gone is the Kamieniecki who took an eternity between pitches and went deep into every count, making his fielders edgy and his manager simmer.

No longer seen is the Kamieniecki who couldn't mask his disgust when circumstances conspired against him, who gave off bad vibes as the results grew worse.

In his place is a pitcher who works fast, exudes confidence and is unscored upon in his past six games.

"He's really come on. That's the best I've seen him, for whatever reason," said manager Ray Miller, who sent Kamieniecki to the bullpen after his return from Triple-A Rochester on June 6.

"Ever since he's gone to the bullpen and saved that game in Chicago [on June 19], he stays right on the rubber, gets the ball and goes. And he's keeping the ball down and popping it pretty good and throwing a good breaking pitch.

"I don't know whether he just has found that he's suited for this or changed his approach because Kamieniecki he's relieving, but for whatever reason it's a positive."

Kamieniecki had so much more to overcome than just a change in roles. His 1998 season was ruined by injuries, the most serious a herniated disk in his neck that required fusion surgery in September. Then came a lengthy rehab, spring training, and another setback, this time a strained left hamstring that put him on the disabled list as the club headed north.

He rejoined the rotation for May starts in Detroit and Texas, allowing a combined 14 runs and seven walks in just five innings. He totaled 130 pitches, few of them good. With club officials growing impatient and questioning his desire, Kamieniecki was sent to Rochester for 19 days before getting another chance in another environment.

For the first time since signing a two-year, $6.3 million contract the previous winter, Kamieniecki is able to pitch the way he wants. There are no restrictions. No reservations.

"Once I had the neck injury last year, there were days I didn't feel I could pick up my arm, let alone throw a baseball," he said. "After the surgery, I thought I was doing pretty good until spring training, when I had the hamstring injury.

"As a pitcher, if you have a leg injury, it just throws everything out of whack. You're not able to be smooth or be fluid with anything. A pitcher needs rhythm and timing. I wasn't able to have that."

Kamieniecki offers a simple explanation for the change. "I think it comes from pitching without pain," he said. "It's feeling comfortable with yourself. It's tough to get guys out at this level when you're healthy, let alone when you're battling injuries and trying to come back.

With the trade deadline arriving today, after which players must first pass through waivers, a spot could open in the Orioles' rotation. Speculation mounts that Juan Guzman is headed elsewhere, with Kamieniecki perhaps taking his place.

"It depends on what's going to happen here," Miller said, "but I'd like to keep [Kamieniecki] right there because I think he seems comfortable. I think the idea of coming to the park every day with a chance to pitch is refreshing."

Pub Date: 7/31/99

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