Indians eye Erickson or Baines in deal

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Playoff-bound Cleveland files two waiver claims

trade is possible today

August 27, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Orioles and Cleveland Indians are involved in fast-paced discussions that could result in a trade of starting pitcher Scott Erickson or designated hitter Harold Baines by 1 p.m. EDT today, according to sources familiar with talks, which began after the Indians filed a waiver claim on both players earlier this week.

Declining to comment on the waiver issue -- considered confidential by Major League Baseball -- Orioles general manager Frank Wren downplayed the possibility of a deal.

However, the Indians are frantically searching for pitching help. They learned yesterday that they have lost starter Steve Karsay to forearm and elbow stiffness possibly for the rest of the season. Jaret Wright has been on the disabled list twice since the All-Star break and there is little organizational support for including Dwight Gooden in a postseason rotation.

The Indians and Orioles held extensive discussions regarding the durable Erickson before the July 31 waiver deadline. At the time, Indians general manager John Hart was put off by Wren's demand for a three-player package including third base prospect Russell Branyan and outfielder Richie Sexson, indicating that the package might work for Mike Mussina but not Erickson.

The Indians' plight has since worsened while Erickson continues to recover from a 1-8 start. At one point last month the club designated Erickson as "untouchable," but that label was believed more a product of an impasse with the Indians than a philosophical statement.

Erickson is on the first year of a five-year, $32 million contract. Baines is a pending free agent whom the Orioles conceivably could trade and then re-sign after the season. Such a move has been suggested to majority owner Peter Angelos, a huge Baines fan, but to little avail.

"We will always consider ways to make ourselves better for the future," Wren said, "but I can't comment on the likelihood of something happening [today]."

When a player is claimed on waivers, a team has 72 hours in which to pull the player back or consummate a trade. The Indians apparently made the claim on Tuesday afternoon.

While covetous of Erickson, the Indians are concerned that he may exercise his right to demand a trade after the season. Any player traded during a multi-year deal has that leverage.

Erickson is scheduled to start tomorrow's game against the Detroit Tigers. He has enhanced his value by winning seven of his last nine starts and lowering his ERA to a season-low 5.31.

Erickson has included two complete games in his recent run and will likely pass Mussina for the team lead in innings pitched with tomorrow's start.

Johns to start tonight

Manager Ray Miller announced after last night's game that Doug Johns will start tonight's series opener in Detroit, but that the game will be a bullpen team effort.

The Orioles needed an emergency starter because Mussina, whose turn falls tonight, remains sidelined with a severely bruised right shoulder suffered against the Chicago White Sox on Sunday.

Johns pitched four innings last Sunday and 2 1/3 innings Wednesday. Miller indicated that he isn't looking for more than three innings from tonight's starter. He called upon his bullpen only once last night, using closer Mike Timlin in the eighth inning of a 6-0 loss.

Asked what tilted the decision in Johns' favor, Miller said, "He came in here and asked for it. I told him I can't go very far with it."

Said Johns: "It's a situation that arose because of the injury to Mike. If it's something to help out, I'll start the game,"

Miller had named Jim Corsi and Al Reyes as possibilities for a start by committee. But neither pitcher had been approached before last night's game, leading to clubhouse speculation that Johns might get the assignment.

Miller's proposal is for three relievers to share six innings before involving Jesse Orosco, Arthur Rhodes and Timlin for the final three.

Rhodes, sidelined since also being knocked out of Sunday's game by a one-hop shot, threw yesterday for the first time since being checked by a Baltimore hand specialist Monday. Rhodes said he could throw all his pitches with command, though his left index finger, which was jammed and bruised, still experienced discomfort on breaking pitches.

"I can go [tonight]," Rhodes said. "I'm not going on the DL. I've had enough of the disabled list. I'm good enough to pitch."

Miller ruled out starting Scott Kamieniecki, citing his former No. 5 starter's recent success in a bullpen role.

Said Kamieniecki, who endorsed Miller's decision: "You've got the choice of blowing it up for one day or for four days. One day makes the most sense to me."

Clark undergoes surgery

Orioles first baseman Will Clark was first off the HealthSouth assembly line yesterday in Birmingham, Ala. Dr. James Andrews performed arthroscopic surgery to shave bone spurs from Clark's problematic left elbow just before performing shoulder surgery on Tigers starting pitcher Justin Thompson.

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