No longer starting, Driskill still kept in middle of things

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Called to pitch from 'pen, `fresher' rookie produces like he did before break

September 16, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

BOSTON - Even when Travis Driskill was thriving in a starting role for the Orioles earlier this season, several baseball evaluators suggested he was best suited for a middle-relief role.

It was a great story. Driskill, a rookie who turned 31 this season, took a 6-1 record into the All-Star break after nine seasons in the minor leagues.

But it was too good to last. Driskill leveled off with a 2-6 record after the break, and the Orioles entered September with Driskill back in the bullpen.

Instead of letting the ordeal shatter his confidence, Driskill is thriving again. On Saturday, he pitched 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief against the Boston Red Sox, allowing one hit and striking out three.

In his only other outing of the road trip, Driskill pitched two perfect innings against the New York Yankees on Thursday. In fact, over his past 8 2/3 innings - all in relief -Driskill has allowed no runs and two hits.

"I see a guy that's getting a lot of rest and is fresh and strong when he comes into the game," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "Before, when he was starting, Travis had a tendency to wear down a little bit. I think we're seeing better stuff out of him because he's fresher."

Hargrove said the club will continue to use Driskill in long relief this season, but added, "If he continues to do what he's doing, I don't see any reason why he couldn't at the very least be an occasional setup guy."

None of this seems to bother Driskill. It took him so long to reach the big leagues, he genuinely appreciates every day he puts on the uniform.

"I'm not going to lie; I'd love to start," Driskill said. "If it's not in the cards, it's not in the cards. My ego's not that big yet. Hopefully it never gets that big, either."

Driskill has always relied on his ability to locate his fastball, and that began betraying him after the All-Star break. In his final start before moving to the bullpen, he walked four batters, matching his season high.

In three relief appearances, Driskill has yet to walk a batter.

"Moves are made to put players in a position to succeed," Driskill said. "From a personal standpoint, it's working. I'm just pitching with a lot of confidence right now. I don't know where it came from, but it's back."

Matthews update

Gary Matthews has had some good swings in batting practice but hasn't had an official at-bat since Aug. 23, when he left the game with tendinitis in his right wrist. Matthews, a switch-hitter, has been able to swing from either side, but it pains him more when he swings left-handed.

The Orioles haven't been the same since Matthews got injured, losing 19 of their past 22 games. Hargrove said Matthews, who was activated from the disabled list on Wednesday, will probably be ready to return to the lineup sometime during this homestand, which starts today and ends next Monday.

"I don't know how close he is," Hargrove said, "but he's closer."

Around the horn

Jeff Conine extended his hitting streak to six games yesterday, and in his past 33 games, he is batting .347. ... Melvin Mora is eligible to play tonight after serving a three-game suspension for his role in the July 28 brawl against the Red Sox. Willis Roberts still has two games remaining on his suspension. ... Boston pitcher Derek Lowe (five-game suspension) and second baseman Rey Sanchez (two-game) began serving their suspensions yesterday.

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