Pitchers' return to form may disarm skeptics

AL Notebook


Orioles left-hander Erik Bedard had his best start of the season last week.

The same goes for Florida Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis.

The San Diego Padres' Jake Peavy has had a string of good ones recently. So has the Minnesota Twins' Johan Santana. And the Oakland Athletics' Huston Street and Houston Astros' Brad Lidge threw perfect innings.

That barely audible sound of relief is coming from the Orioles' broadcast booth.

Buck Martinez, Orioles TV commentator and manager of Team USA's World Baseball Classic entry, has studied each of the aforementioned pitchers with a keen eye.

"I have been watching them all," Martinez said. "These were my guys, and you don't want anybody to struggle."

Since the season began last month, there have been whispers - in some places, screams - that the inaugural Classic played in March has adversely affected its participants, specifically the pitchers.

Certainly there are some Classic pitchers - the Los Angeles' Angels' Scot Shields, San Diego's Chan Ho Park, Texas' Akinori Otsuka - who have started off hot and look better than last year.

But enough quality Classic pitchers have struggled early on - and a few others have been shut down at least temporarily - that the connection has to be theorized.

And that makes Martinez, a huge believer in the 16-country tournament, wince.

"It doesn't look good and that's for sure," Martinez said. "There is going to be a lot of scrutiny on this. It's hard to imagine that it would be coincidence that there are that many of the same guys [struggling]."

The Orioles had four starters pitch in the Classic, and all four have started slowly. But none offers it as an excuse.

"I don't think just because I pitched in the WBC it would affect me in the season," said Orioles starter Bruce Chen, who is 0-4 with an 8.23 ERA after pitching one game for Panama in March. "But even if it is, I should be able to get out of it."

That's what Martinez, baseball commissioner Bud Selig and other Classic supporters are hoping: that the positive trend from last week continues and erases the questions from the first month.

Score and keep going

When a player gets promoted to the majors, the media often ask how he heard the news. Normally, the answer is routine. Cleveland Indians middle infielder and journeyman Lou Merloni's wasn't.

Merloni had just reached third base in Tuesday's game for Triple-A Buffalo when his third base coach and manager Torey Lovullo began reviewing base-running situations.

"`Go if the ball is on the ground' and things like that," Merloni recalled. "Then [Lovullo] said, `When you score, you're coming out of the game. [Ryan Garko] is coming in and you're going to the big leagues.'"

Quick hits

Pitcher Steve Karsay, 34, is back with Oakland 13 years and three elbow surgeries after he was traded to the A's by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993 for Rickey Henderson. ... Kansas City Royals reliever Elmer Dessens, 35, became the sixth native of Mexico to pitch 1,000 innings in the majors after a relief outing last week.

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