Penn middle-relief baptism could help O's now and later

The Kickoff

May 03, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

I'm sure newly recalled Orioles relievers Julio Manon and Kurt Birkins are nice guys and I wish them the best in their new endeavor - trying to plug the gaping, Grand Canyon-sized hole in the middle of the Orioles' bullpen - but the team might be better served to take a lesson from history.

During the club's glory years, it was not unusual for the best pitching prospect in the organization to serve a major league apprenticeship in long relief.

Jim Palmer did it.

So did Dennis Martinez, Mike Flanagan and Scott McGregor.

Worked out OK.

Now, with the Orioles in a serious bullpen funk, and the club reeling from a series of discouraging middle-inning collapses, the front office needs to consider bringing up valuable prospect Hayden Penn as soon as he gets comfortable at Triple-A to deepen the major league staff before the club gets too deep in the standings.

It's not the most attractive option because times have changed and most teams do not want to start the service time clock on players who might become coveted free agents a year early or command big arbitration bucks sooner than absolutely necessary.

In a perfect world, the Orioles would be foolish to waste those valuable service days with Penn (or Adam Loewen later in the summer), but it might be necessary to avert an early-season tailspin that the franchise can ill afford with attendance already testing the major principles of Newtonian physics.

Most teams prefer to develop their top pitching prospects in the roles they are projected to fill at the major league level, an approach that is supported by the current salary structure of the sport. There is value, however, in the experience that Penn would get in a long relief/spot starter role, and it is fair to question the logic of leaving a couple of hundred quality innings in the minors when the major league team is in such dire need of help.

Don't be surprised if the Orioles' brass reaches that conclusion sooner rather than later.

What is it about former NL relievers and Camden Yards? Jim Brower, who was just designated for assignment, joined a growing list of formerly solid NL middlemen to flame out in Baltimore. The Orioles came up empty with Mike DeJean in 2004 and ran aground with Steve Reed and Steve Kline last year.

Washington Nationals fans probably are in favor of the action by the D.C. Council yesterday intended to put pressure on Comcast and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network to resolve the dispute that is keeping Nationals broadcasts off local television, but it should come with a caveat.

The last time D.C. politicians got together to resolve a baseball dispute, they nearly drove the team back out of town.

Comcast put out a news release, which attempted to keep Nats fans focused on the role Orioles owner Peter Angelos has supposedly played in first trying to keep the team out of Washington and now keeping the games off local TV. Of course, MASN wants the games to be broadcast on Comcast, which would seem to point the finger at the cable giant for stubbornly blockading the broadcasts until it gets the deal it wants from MASN.

I particularly enjoyed the final line of the statement attributed to Comcast executive vice president David L. Cohen.

"Comcast is focused on working with Major League Baseball on a solution that will protect the fans, the Nationals and Comcast cable customers."

The way the Nats are playing this year, maybe keeping them off the air is accomplishing just that.

Just got back from the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Awards Program in Salisbury, N.C., where CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz was named National Sportscaster of the Year and Sports Illustrated columnist Steve Rushin was named National Sportswriter of the Year.

It was a nice event made even nicer when Nantz used his acceptance speech to re-enact the NSSA Hall of Fame induction of broadcasting great Jack Whitaker, who was unable to attend his induction in 2001 because he was on assignment for the network.

Whitaker had been invited to Salisbury to introduce Nantz, but found the tables turned on him at the end of the awards banquet with an emotional presentation.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

"The Peter Schmuck Show" airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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