There's no quit in returning Mills

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Frustrated, but not ready to retire, he looks to '02

Harris leads off in debut

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

After two days spent contemplating his retirement, Orioles reliever Alan Mills returned to the clubhouse yesterday with his focus extended beyond the final month of this season.

Mills, who was granted a leave of absence from the team Friday after another poor outing, said he still is convinced he can pitch and wants to start fresh next spring. Despondent over lingering weakness in his surgically repaired right shoulder and the inability to perform to his standards, Mills missed the past two games.

"I'm back to stay," Mills said while standing at his locker before yesterday's game. "I'm more frustrated than anything. I've been through it before where you come back from surgery. Maybe I expected too much, but that's a part of who I am and what I'm about. I take pride in what I do."

That is what has made his past five appearances so hard to tolerate. Mills has given up five homers during that stretch, including a grand slam to the Oakland Athletics' Eric Chavez on Thursday. He has also served up three three-run shots, leaving his ERA at 10.38 in 13 innings since being activated July 12.

"I don't make any excuses for how I perform," he said. "I just expect more from myself."

Mills has regained his velocity after surgery last September to tighten the labrum lining in his shoulder, but finds it difficult to locate his slider for strikes. His arm strength remains inconsistent, along with his command.

Uncertain what he would do after leaving the club, Mills accompanied the team on its six-game road trip that begins tonight in Oakland. Manager Mike Hargrove said he wasn't surprised to see Mills in the clubhouse. "I thought there was a very good chance," he said.

"I really considered retiring. It's not like I just went AWOL," Mills said. "I've never been a quitter, either. I don't think I want to end it that way. I love the game. I still feel I can play the game. That's the frustrating part about it."

Mills, who will turn 35 next month, is a free agent after this season, and the Orioles must decide whether to include him in their bullpen plans for 2002.

"When I was going through my rehab, I wasn't rehabbing just to be playing this year," said Mills, who considered retiring in 1995 after having his right shoulder repaired. "I feel like I've gotten stronger since I've been here, but I still feel like I have a ways to go."

Harris takes it from top

Willie Harris glanced at the lineup posted outside Hargrove's office and made a quick observation. "They didn't waste any time," he said.

Joining the Orioles from Double-A Bowie was surprise enough. But Harris also discovered, upon being shown the lineup, he would start in center field and bat leadoff against Seattle's Joel Pineiro. The candidates for the job were diminished with Larry Bigbie (strained left hamstring) being day-to-day.

So much for being eased into his big-league debut.

Harris, who played center field and second base at Bowie, hit .305 in 133 games to build on a strong 2000 season. He ranked fifth in the Eastern League in batting and second in stolen bases (54). Harris, 23, batted .393 in August and impressed the Orioles enough that he was added to their 40-man roster.

"I really didn't expect it," he said. "I tried not to think about it. Just go out and play every day, and whatever happens, happens. I've got no control over what goes on, who gets called up and who doesn't. But I was very excited when I heard the good news. I called my family, and everybody was happy for me."

He went 0-for-2 yesterday, with a loud ovation for a sacrifice bunt in the third inning that moved up two runners. He also looked comfortable in center field, though he's a natural second baseman who keeps getting moved in the minors depending on the needs of his club. When Tim Raines Jr. and Luis Matos arrived in Bowie, Harris returned to the infield.

"I've played second more. I'm still learning how to play the outfield," said Harris, who batted .417 in the Single-A South Atlantic League playoffs last year. "It's just small things that I really didn't know anything about. It's not as easy as it looks."

The eighth center fielder used by the Orioles this season, Harris still hasn't gotten up enough nerve to strike up a conversation with Cal Ripken, whom he met during spring training.

"Being a young guy, you don't know what to say to Cal, so you pretty much don't say anything. All you can do is just look and be like, `That's Cal Ripken,' " he said.

"I want to say something to him, but I'm afraid."

Haven't I seen you before?

Not all the new faces are unfamiliar.

Ryan Kohlmeier has arrived for his third stint with the club, leaving behind a 1-4 record and 2.36 ERA in 14 games at Triple-A Rochester. He made seven starts with the Red Wings, the first of his career, but doesn't project as a member of the Orioles' rotation.

At least not yet.

"I really don't see Ryan as a starter," Hargrove said. "That certainly doesn't mean he won't be. I'll keep an open mind about it."

The Orioles also have lockers reserved for pitchers Kris Foster and Sean Douglass and infielder Ivanon Coffie.

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