Steady Towers on course for 4th spot

Four shutout innings underscore recovery from '01 slide, injury

March 11, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Every spot in the Orioles' rotation comes with its own set of questions, whether it involves a health issue, unfulfilled promise or vacant space at the end.

Two weeks into the exhibition schedule, Josh Towers has been pretty close to a sure thing.

Towers threw four scoreless innings yesterday in the Orioles' 6-1 victory over the Montreal Expos. He's allowed only one run in nine innings.

"I think I'm right where I want to be," he said. "Things have progressed. Each day I've felt a little better on the mound, which is what it's all about."

Scott Erickson is lined up to pitch on Opening Day, assuming the role of staff ace 19 months after having a ligament transplanted in his right elbow.

Jason Johnson and Sidney Ponson should follow him in the rotation, leaving Towers as the fourth starter.

It's the place he expected to be all along.

"I have no intention of leapfrogging anybody. I don't even think about that," he said.

"As long as I'm in the rotation this year in Baltimore, that's all I really wanted. As long as I get my opportunity to pitch, as long as I deserve it, that's all I want."

Towers won eight games as a rookie in 2001, but lost eight of his last 10 decisions before breaking the ring finger on his right hand. The finger retains some swelling, which he's been told won't go away, but Towers said the ball doesn't feel strange in his hand.

Same grip, same precise control.

"It's a non-factor. It just looks different," he said.

Towers walked the first batter yesterday, which is like Ray Lewis missing a tackle or Tiger Woods four-putting. It just doesn't happen.

"That's a big no-no," he said. "And I had him 1-2, which made it even worse. I don't know why that happened."

Ron Callaway was the only hitter to get a free pass from Towers, who turned in his longest outing yesterday.

"I felt really good in the first inning. I don't know what happened. But after that, I felt good and threw the ball well, so that's a pretty good feeling I had an idea things were going to go well," Towers said.

"I think I'm right where I want to be. Things have progressed. Each day I've felt a little better on the mound, which is what it's all about."

Towers said his pitches aren't "exactly where I'd like them to be" in terms of consistency, but they're not far off. His changeup is getting better. He hung two sliders yesterday, but the rest were effective.

"I think I'm pretty close," he said, "but knowing me, it's never good enough."

Unlike other pitchers, Towers said he doesn't experience a dead-arm period in camp, which he credits to an off-season throwing program. But he still contends with some soreness near the elbow that always subsides the next day.

"I'll have it tomorrow and I'll have it on my bullpen day," he said. "I get it no matter what. It happened all last year. It's kind of weird but that's the way it goes."

He's already figured out how the rotation will go. A Triple-A pitcher to begin the 2001 season, with skeptics at every corner because of a fastball that doesn't leave trails of smoke, he's certain to head north when the Orioles break camp later this month.

"I feel secure, but I'm pitching well, too, so that always helps," he said. "I wouldn't think I deserved it if guys were doing better."

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