Cy of relief? Flanagan won't discount possibility of job in Oriole bullpen


When it comes to former Oriole Cy Young Award winners and their attempts at comebacks, the most feasible possibility is the one making the least noise and therefore getting the least attention.

But that has always seemed to be the case with Mike Flanagan, who has been throwing three times a week under the watchful eye of Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks. Suffice it to say there are more teams interested in a possible return by Flanagan than in the on-again, off-again comeback by Jim Palmer.

"He [Flanagan] is throwing 100 percent better than he was this time last year," said Hendricks. "I'd like to see us get him."

While Palmer is in Florida working out on a mysterious schedule that hasn't as yet allowed anybody to take an official look, Flanagan is proceeding with a program designed to have him ready for the start of spring training.

There is no question that Flanagan, 39, would be welcome in several big-league camps. It will be up to him to decide which team offers the best set of circumstances.

"I'm looking at it optimistically," said Flanagan, who is fourth on the Orioles' all-time win list with 139. "I'm in what you could call a pre-spring training mode. I'm throwing just like I had a contract. There has been more than one invitation, but we're still looking for a little more incentive."

Orioles general manager Roland Hemond confirmed that he has had two conversations with Bob Teaff, who represents Flanagan, and expects to talk to him again this week. Whether the Orioles, or any of the other interested clubs (the Red Sox probably have been the most persistent), are willing to give Flanagan anything more than a "make good" invitation remains to be seen.

Flanagan isn't looking for much in the way of guarantees, but would like an indication that a team is willing to consider him seriously. "I'd want to know that I have a legitimate chance to make the club," said Flanagan.

He hasn't decided yet what he'll do if he's unable to get some kind of commitment. "I don't know," he said. "That's something I haven't thought of yet. It would be a big decision. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it."

All things being equal, it would seem to be to Flanagan's benefit to attempt his comeback with the Orioles, since he still lives here. "I guess things aren't equal," he said. "It's out of my hands. It's not a decision for me to make. That will be up to the clubs."

Flanagan is convinced he would be better prepared this year than he was a year ago, when he was abruptly released by Toronto a month after the season started.

"First of all, I don't have to worry about a lockout," he said of last year's work stoppage.

"I was in good shape for the start of spring training last year. But then we sat down for a month, and I only pitched two innings before the season started. Then I pitched 20 innings during the season [in five starts] and, boom, I was out of there.

"I didn't think 20 innings was much of a test. I was second on the team in innings pitched [171] the year before. It's not like I'm coming off an injury. I think my arm strength was down merely because I didn't have the time to build it up after the lockout.

"I just think it was a numbers game with them [the Blue Jays]. They had three lefthanders in the rotation, and none of us was particularly effective. John Cerutti was 0-3, Jimmy Key was 1-3 and I was 2-2, but I was the oldest and they had some younger guys they wanted to try . . . They felt they had to make a move, and I was the obvious candidate."

Some in the Orioles' organization have speculated about using Flanagan in relief because of his ability to get lefthanded hitters out. Flanagan is aware that may be his ticket back.

"I'd think I would be like an insurance policy for some teams -- maybe a fifth starter, or long relief," he said. "But as long as the role was defined early enough I think I could adjust.

"A couple of teams asked about the possibility of working as a short lefthanded reliever. At the time I didn't think that would be best either for the team or myself. But the more I've thought about it, about a guy like Dennis Eckersley making the transition late in his career, the more I realized it could work. I don't have any problem with that."

Brian Holton, another ex-Oriole (he's headed for San Diego) working out three times a week at Memorial Stadium, is an impartial observer who thinks Flanagan still can be effective in the big leagues.

"I don't see any difference in the way he's throwing now and the way he threw two years ago," said Holton. "He doesn't look any different to me. And he's lefthanded, so you figure teams are going to be interested."

The Orioles are not eager to stifle the progress of any of their young starters, but they still have a lefthanded vacancy created by the departure of Joe Price. They could provide the best fit for Flanagan -- but they probably won't make any more guarantees than they did for catcher Ernie Whitt.

Whitt, who caught Flanagan at Toronto before joining Atlanta last season, has a verbal agreement with the Orioles based on his ability to make the team in spring training. That is a likely scenario for Flanagan, who figures decisions will have to be made by the end of this week.

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