Paronto armed, but O's loaded

Numbers game may count against pitcher with `really good stuff'

March 28, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The numbers are being fickle with Orioles pitcher Chad Paronto. They either love him or threaten him. They either scream for his inclusion on the Opening Day staff or whisper that his time is running out.

Teams have reached him for only two earned runs in nine relief innings, striking out 10 times against one walk. They're batting .229 against him.

Those are the numbers that should create room for Paronto with the Orioles, who probably will do their part by putting Alan Mills on the disabled list. But the club is expected to take only 11 pitchers north this weekend, rather than 12. That's where Paronto could become a victim of perhaps the most important number.

Relievers Ryan Kohlmeier and Mike Trombley are certain to remain, and Willis Roberts probably will settle in the bullpen if not named the fifth starter. Calvin Maduro, re-signed two days into camp, hasn't been scored upon in 11 1/3 innings and brings something Paronto can't offer - major-league experience.

Thrown into this pile of right-handers, Paronto could sink to the bottom. Or at least to Triple-A Rochester, where he appeared in 12 games last season

"I know that I can pitch for this club," he said, "but I have a lot of things against me."

That includes not being on the 40-man roster, though neither are Maduro or Roberts.

"There are little things that are all in the equation in trying to get there," he said. "But the Orioles have given me many chances, which is great. I didn't know how much I'd get to pitch in the games to show them. It's been great. I've had a lot of opportunities."

One of the most important came two months ago, when Paronto joined a host of other young pitchers at a two-week camp in Sarasota, Fla. New pitching coach Mark Wiley, third base coach Tom Trebelhorn, roving instructor Marv Foley and Rochester manager Andy Etchebarren were among the members of the organization who attended it.

Every pitching coach in the system was there at some point, and Paronto no longer was a stranger to anyone.

"That was good for me, to get out of the snow and get out a little bit where I could long toss and throw two or three bullpens while I was down there," said Paronto, who lives in New Hampshire. "Plus, there were all the meetings, where you got to really start thinking about baseball.

"I really wanted to throw well down there so Mark would take notice. Also, some of the other pitching coaches see you and they start talking at the meetings. That's the way it's got to go. You have limited opportunities. You've got to make the most of them whenever you can."

Paronto can get noticed in many ways. His size brings attention - he's 6 feet 5, 255 pounds - along with the heat he takes to the mound. There's also a quality sinker, slider and changeup. And his status as an eighth-round draft pick in 1996 out of Massachusetts-Amherst, which brought expectations he's had trouble meeting.

Unable to reach Triple-A until last season, Paronto is 23-32 in five professional seasons. He went down to Double-A Bowie last summer, staying there for six weeks before returning to the Red Wings on July 20. His season already had gotten off to a rocky start because of a biceps injury that cost him the first two months. Smoothing it out would take time, just like getting past the lower levels of the minors. He was pitching at Single-A Frederick as recently as 1999.

"Not many guys can skyrocket through the minor leagues. Everybody has their down times," he said.

They took an upward swing after he got back to Rochester last season. Paronto rang up a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings as a reliever, compared to 7.56 in 25 innings as a starter.

The issue was settled. Paronto would be lumped with the other relievers in spring training. And he would continue to impress Wiley, who had a clear memory of Paronto from Sarasota.

"I saw a couple of different things," Wiley said. "I saw a guy who was really interested in improving his career. He shared some stuff with the other pitchers in the meetings we had about his career and some adjustments he made that showed his willingness to try to help other guys. I saw a big man who has high energy. You don't see a lot of big guys like that. I saw all those things, and I was impressed. I liked the way he went about his business, and he had fun doing it.

"He's got really good stuff, and he's a very dedicated, very focused guy. He's very coachable and wants to learn real bad."

Wiley sensed that Paronto didn't hold the highest opinion of himself, judging from descriptions provided by the pitcher. They were vivid, and often critical.

"I think he felt like he wasn't very good. He said there were times when he was the worst pitcher on his team in the minor leagues," Wiley said. "But he's a great kid and a really good competitor. He's got good, clear eyes on the mound. He's not afraid. He doesn't have fear."

Even when it comes to his fate, which will be determined in the next few days.

"All I can do is go out there and pitch to the best of my ability and whatever happens, happens," he said. "There's a lot of things that factor into that, as far as who they're going to keep. Some of the things are out of my control. But if I go out and throw strikes and get guys out, it makes the decision that much harder.

"I'm just enjoying it while it's lasting. Hopefully, I'll be enjoying it straight through to October."

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