Worrell relieved for fresh start with new team

Grateful to be out of Oakland, pitcher gets shot with O's

March 06, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Tim Worrell understood the market. He knew finding a job this winter would be a little more challenging. It wasn't as if he expected the phone to ring off the hook.

But did it have to take this long?

It wasn't until Feb. 4 that Worrell latched on with a new club, signing a minor-league contract with the Orioles and receiving an invitation to spring training. He had completed a decent season with the Oakland Athletics, contributing to a pitching staff that posted the American League's third-lowest ERA. He ranked third on the team in appearances with 53.

He deserved better. He didn't get it. Certainly not from the A's, who had no desire to bring him back. Nor from a number of other clubs, which were more forthcoming with promises than offers.

At least the Orioles had stepped up in early November, expressing interest in a reliever they hoped could provide comfort to a troubled bullpen. They contacted his agent, but later signed Mike Trombley and Buddy Groom as free agents and traded for Chuck McElroy before finally getting a deal done with Worrell.

"There were other clubs interested," he said, "but not a lot of clubs made offers. I don't know what they were waiting for. We were kind of waiting for other offers to get the ball rolling, but nothing really ever came out of that.

"I wasn't real worried about having a job somewhere, but it seemed like it took a long time. You wonder, `What the heck's going on?' "

It was an odd predicament for Worrell, 32, who had established himself at the major-league level after seven seasons. He held right-handed hit ters to a .229 average last season, and his ERA was 3.70 until the final week, when a couple of rough outings raised it to 4.15.

"We had a lot of teams saying, `Hold on, we're going to make trades,' " he said. "I waited and waited. Finally, I couldn't wait anymore.

"One of the teams that had been interested from the get-go was Baltimore."

Worrell already had dismissed the A's, who, in turn, wanted no part of him.

Worrell chooses his words carefully when talking about his time in Oakland. The A's were his third club in 1998. He should have enjoyed the next season, if only because he managed to stay in one place. But it wasn't possible.

"I didn't want to go back, and I bet they didn't want me back. We never put them in the picture," said Worrell.

"I don't want to get into a bunch of stuff. I guess the bottom line is, I didn't agree with their pitching philosophy. I don't think I pitched to my strengths very well the last year and a half. I have the final say on what I throw, so I'm not blaming them, but the overall philosophy and theory of pitching sometimes didn't go to my strengths.

"All [Orioles pitching coach] Sammy Ellis has preached so far the first couple meetings we've had is that you have a game plan and you pitch to your strengths. That's how all of us got to the big leagues. But they tried to map out a game plan and tried to get all their guys to pitch to it. In my personal opinion, that doesn't work."

Worrell started slowly last year, allowing seven of nine inherited runners to score during his first 16 games through May 18 and posting a 6.04 ERA. He then pitched four shutout innings in Minnesota, beginning an eight-game stretch when he gave up only one earned run in 12 1/3 innings. But some of the final numbers rub him raw, like the 25 of 49 inherited runners he allowed to score -- most in the AL. Six times he entered a game with the bases loaded. Four times he cleared them.

"I was very inconsistent," said Worrell, who spent three weeks on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his rib cage. "I can't look back at the Oakland thing. There are things I did wrong, so I'm just looking forward to getting off to a good start here. But first of all, I've got to make the club."

That's far from certain. Worrell could begin the season at Triple-A Rochester while the Orioles go with 11 pitchers, then join the club when the staff expands later in April. He could beat out Al Reyes and never see the minors. Or he could lose his spot to someone such as Jose Mercedes or Calvin Maduro, who is out of options.

"If this situation had happened a year ago, I'd probably be a nervous wreck right now. But they haven't treated me that way," he said. "I feel like the ball's in my hand. I control some of my destiny. That's all you can ask for."

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