The question of the night was whether Pete Harnisch would remain in the Orioles' starting rotation. Manager Frank Robinson sighed before providing the inevitable answer. "Anything around here is a possibility," he said.
Harnisch, 23, has worked a club-high 173 2/3 innings, including six in last night's 8-0 loss to Detroit. His record is below .500 for the first time this season, and his inconsistent second half has Robinson thinking his arm might be tired.
"I worry about all my young pitchers pitching a full season," Robinson said, knowing this is Harnisch's first full year in the majors. "It can wear them down. You can lose your edge over the course of the season."
Harnisch (10-11, 4.51) has allowed six runs in back-to-back starts, although only five last night were earned. He is the only pitcher who has been in the Orioles' rotation all season. But he has only one win in his last nine starts with a 6.57 ERA.
The Tigers had nine hits off him last night, including a two-run homer by Lou Whitaker following a throwing error by first baseman David Segui in the sixth. Robinson said he is throwing as hard as before, but is not as sharp with his location. Harnisch was not available for comment.
Tonight's starter, Dave Johnson, went to the bullpen after coming off the 15-day disabled list. So did Bob Milacki, who allowed Chet Lemon's two-run single last night. Robinson could do the same thing with Harnisch, but who would replace him?
One possibility is Dorn Taylor, who pitched a scoreless ninth in his Orioles debut. But Taylor, 32, does not figure in the club's long-range plans. And no one at Rochester will be considered until the end of the Triple A Alliance playoffs.
* MORE ON THE GAME: The Orioles managed just three hits in seven innings off lefthander Frank Tanana, who earned his first victory at Memorial Stadium since June 16, 1986. Tanana is 7-7 with a 5.77 ERA, but has allowed only six earned runs in 25 innings since rejoining the Tigers' rotation.
The Orioles now have more losses (76) than they did all of last season. The three-game winning streak was their longest in September since 1986. They haven't had a four-game winning streak in the final month since their world championship season in 1983.
Lefthander Kevin Hickey walked the only two batters he faced, and has now allowed six runs in two innings since returning from Rochester. His fastball, once in the 88-89 mph range, is down to 86. Robinson has said he wants to add a hard-throwing lefthander in the bullpen next year.
* LINEUP SHUFFLE: Yes, Ron Kittle lives. He started for the first time in six games last night, and his rustiness showed: Despite entering the game 10-for-32 (.313) with five homers off Tanana, he went 0-for-3 and was again showered with boos at Memorial Stadium.
Mickey Tettleton was not in the lineup, even though he was 9-for-24 (.375) with three homers off Tanana and 5-for-13 with three doubles in his previous four games. Bob Melvin started at catcher and went 1-for-3. He's batting .284 in his last 28 games.
One other thing about Tettleton: He is on pace to become only the fifth player in major-league history to finish with 100 more strikeouts than RBIs (he currently has 144 strikeouts, 44 RBIs).
The others were: Bobby Bonds, 1970 Giants (189-78); Rob Deer, 1987 Brewers (186-80); Dave Nicholson, 1963 White Sox (175-70) and Ron LeFlore, 1975 Tigers (139-37).
* A QUICK LOOK AHEAD: Robinson said it's "premature" to discuss whether individual players will be back next season, but designated hitter Sam Horn appears to have a good chance, and not simply because he has 11 homers and 33 RBIs in only 197 at-bats.
Other than Tettleton, who is a switch-hitter, the Orioles are short on power from the left side (Joe Orsulak has 11 homers, but is considered a contact hitter). Robinson believes Segui, another switch-hitter, eventually could hit 10 to 20 homers. But that's down the line.
Horn went 5-for-8 with five RBIs in the California series, but was not in the lineup against the lefthanded Tanana last night. "The way he has played lately, he has not hurt himself," Robinson said. "He certainly has made a case for himself."
* TAKING A CHANCE: Outfielder Roberto Clemente Jr. has been out of baseball four years, but the Orioles yesterday signed him to a Double A contract. Assistant scouting director Roy Krasik said the club offered no guarantees, but Clemente might prove worth the risk.
"When he first played, he played for the memory of his father," Krasik said, referring to the late Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente. "Now he's playing to follow in his father's footsteps. He really wants to play. We thought it would be interesting to pursue."
Krasik said he initially was reluctant to discuss a contract with Clemente's agents, Alicia Burns and Larry Saperstein. The reason was simple: Clemente, 25, hasn't played pro ball since batting .229 for San Diego's Class A Charleston in 1986.
But the agents slowly changed Krasik's mind. Clemente worked with former major-leaguer George Foster for several weeks, and Krasik said Foster came away "very, very impressed." So, the Orioles sent Rudy Hernandez, one of their Puerto Rican scouts, to investigate.
Hernandez, too, was impressed. Clemente, a switch-hitter, ran to first in 3.9 seconds from the left side (4.1 is considered good) and 4.1 seconds from the right side (4.3 is considered good). He showed "pretty good power," Krasik said, and a "very good" arm.
* AROUND THE HORN: Orioles reliever Gregg Olson on Sunday became the youngest pitcher in major-league history to earn 30 saves in a season. Bruce Sutter reached that milestone for the Cubs at 24 years, eight months in 1977. Olson did it at 23 years, 11 months.
Orioles reliever Mark Williamson is still wearing a plastic cast to protect the broken ring finger on his pitching hand, but his latest model is about half the size of before. Williamson said his hand will remain in the cast three more weeks. He expects to resume throwing in November.
Rochester third baseman Leo Gomez and righthander Anthony Telford are the Orioles' minor-league player and pitcher of the year. Gomez finished with 97 RBIs, becoming the first Rochester player to lead the International League since Jim Fuller in 1974. Telford was a combined 14-4 at Frederick and Hagerstown, and is now 2-2 with the Orioles.
Whitaker was a career-high 0-for-25 before his RBI single in the second inning. He finished with three RBIs . . . Detroit outfielder John Shelby played at Memorial Stadium for the first time since May 1987, when he was traded to Los Angeles for reliever Tom Niedenfuer. He went 1-for-2 as the reserve DH.