Kohlmeier ahead of game again


Throwing early strikes helps closer rediscover successful approach

May 03, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

A perfect ninth inning by Ryan Kohlmeier on April 25 did more than produce another save. It marked the first time the Orioles' closer had gone through an appearance without allowing a base runner.

Kohlmeier has stayed clean ever since, retiring every batter he's faced in his next two games. He got two fly balls and a grounder on Monday for his fifth save, and two pop-ups and a strikeout the next night for his sixth. On both occasions, he handcuffed the team that almost ripped the closer's job from his grasp.

Two ninth-inning homers, the last by Tampa Bay's Greg Vaughn, erased an 8-5 lead at Tropicana Field on April 22 and resulted in the second blown save of Kohlmeier's brief career. Speculation mounted that he wouldn't get another chance, but manager Mike Hargrove stuck with him. Kohlmeier, in return, has lowered both his ERA and Hargrove's blood pressure.

Kohlmeier constantly fell behind hitters, issuing nine walks in his first 8 2/3 innings. The first batter often reached, needing no more than four pitches, but Kohlmeier has gotten ahead or gotten an out to open the ninth twice this week. He threw a strike to the Devil Rays' Jose Guillen on Monday and retired Fred McGriff on one pitch Tuesday.

"I do feel differently now," Kohlmeier said. "It's not that I felt bad earlier in the season physically, but for whatever reason I wasn't getting ahead of batters. It's so much easier when you put them in a situation where they're defensive instead of me trying to battle back and even the count. It's just night and day."

Kohlmeier doesn't have a ready explanation for the change, though he admits to being more relaxed and trusting of his stuff rather than being too fine. "Just like when a hitter goes into a slump, I think that's all it was. I was in a little bit of a funk. I don't think it was anything mechanical."

New situations

Walking into the clubhouse at Camden Yards has been "a dream come true," said pitcher Josh Towers, whose season began at Triple-A Rochester.

Walking to the bullpen before each game has been a little strange.

Towers hasn't been assigned a reliever's duties since 1998, and that wasn't on a full-time basis. A starter for 87 games in the minors, he's adjusting to life outside a rotation.

"It's a big difference. My whole throwing program's changed. My whole running program, working out, deciding how much I want to get loose before a game, it's all different. I'm still kind of learning that right now," said Towers, before last night's loss to the Devil Rays.

"Everything I've built and learned what worked for me over the last four years has changed. I've got a routine down and I've got to go away from that. I don't know how it'll work out, but I think it'll be OK. It'll just take time."

Towers, 24, made his first major-league appearance last night, pitching a scoreless 1 1/3 innings. He was a candidate to start tonight against the New York Yankees, but Chuck McElroy was chosen because of his experience and the more favorable matchups he provides as a left-hander.

"The only thing I had heard about that was in the paper. No one told me about it, so I didn't really have any hopes to get up," Towers said.

"It would have been nice, exciting. But I don't really care how I get in there. I just want to pitch."

Hitters in the International League preferred that he didn't. Towers, a 15th-round selection in the 1996 draft, was 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in four starts at Rochester. He walked five and struck out 17 in 28 innings.

Given a chance to earn a spot in the Orioles' rotation, Towers failed to display the same command in spring training, allowing 17 hits and walking four in 11 1/3 innings. Opponents batted .362 against him.

The Orioles bypassed him for reliever Chad Paronto when Sidney Ponson went on the disabled list, a move made retroactive to April 16. When David Segui joined Ponson over the weekend, Towers joined the Orioles.

"To walk in this clubhouse and put on this uniform," he said, "I don't think I've stopped smiling since."

Around the horn

Baltimore native Hasim Rahman, who won the WBC and IBF heavyweight titles by knocking out Lennox Lewis on April 21 in South Africa, will throw out the first pitch before tonight's game. ... Cal Ripken has been in the starting lineup for five of the past six games. Mike Kinkade, who ended an 0-for-15 slide with a single in his last at-bat on Monday, remained on the bench.

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