Stalled Bones greets start

Taking Guzman's spot in rotation follows DL stint, rare outings

August 03, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Ricky Bones is being handed the ball, but no promises.

He'll make his first start with the Orioles tonight, filling the spot vacated when Juan Guzman was traded to Cincinnati. He'll probably get Sunday's assignment against Detroit, as well, after the club returns from a six-game West Coast swing.

Beyond that?

"We'll see where we are after that," said manager Ray Miller.

This wasn't what Miller had in mind when the Orioles signed Bones as a free agent over the winter. He was supposed to remain in long relief with left-hander Doug Johns, a luxury the club didn't possess when it broke camp last spring. But with the bullpen in a state of disrepair, Bones began creeping into the later innings before going on the disabled list on July 2 with a tired arm.

Miller assured reporters after the All-Star break that he'd return his pitchers to their intended roles. Bones would cushion any starter who fell out of a game early. No mention was made of his infiltrating the rotation, but the manager's plans changed after Guzman was dealt over the weekend.

He could have turned to Scott Kamieniecki, who mostly has been a starter in his career.

But the right-hander is thriving in the bullpen and finally pitching as he's capable for the first time in two years, so neither party desired a switch. Johns also was deemed too valuable in relief, and the front office preferred that 20-year-old Matt Riley remain at Double-A Bowie, where he's being exposed to the pressures of a pennant race.

Doug Linton, who turned heads in spring training and made eight appearances with the Orioles, is being ignored at Triple-A Rochester despite posting an ERA under 1.00 in July. Rather than bring up a starter from there, the club promoted reliever Jim Corsi to take Guzman's place on the roster.

"I guess I'm the man," Bones said.

Tonight gives him a chance to attain his first victory and some consistency. Bones has given up at least one run in 12 of his last 17 appearances, leaving him with a 9.64 ERA in that span. For the season, he's 0-2 with a 5.86 ERA in 26 games, with 49 hits allowed in 35 1/3 innings. Opponents are batting .329 against him.

This will be only his third appearance since rejoining the staff on July 17. He's gone from one of the league's busiest pitchers -- appearing in six of the first 10 games -- to one of its least visible.

He'll get plenty of attention tonight.

"I knew when I signed that I was going to be in the bullpen, but in the back of my mind I knew I could do either one," he said.

Bones was a starter in 148 of his first 162 games spanning six major-league seasons. The last five came with Milwaukee, where he twice got the assignment on Opening Day. He also started 11 games with Kansas City in 1997, but made all 32 appearances out of the bullpen the next season.

The most innings he's thrown in one game with the Orioles is 4 1/3, and that was back on April 20, when he shut out Tampa Bay on three hits to lower his ERA to 1.54. He threw 64 pitches that night. Just how far can the Orioles expect him to go against the Oakland Athletics?

Miller would settle for five or six innings. So would Bones, though he doesn't want to put a limit on himself before even stepping on the mound.

"It's not going to be nothing crazy," he said. "I don't think the pitch count is going to be a big deal. It's just how well I'm going.

"Even though I'm in the bullpen, I'm training and working out and preparing myself as a pitcher. I don't consider myself a reliever or a starter. But they're not going to let me go out there and burn my arm out."

Bones could take some of the heat off himself by returning to the same groove that made him the club's most dependable reliever in the first month.

"This could help me to balance everything out," he said.

Just what he needs for an uneven season.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Oakland Athletics

Site: Network Associates Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.

Time: 10: 05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: O's Ricky Bones (0-2, 5.86) vs. A's Tim Hudson (5-1, 2.42)

Pub Date: 8/03/99

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