SARASOTA, Fla. -- Jeff Robinson said it was a false alarm. Monday he woke up with a sore arm and flashed back to the stress fracture that diminished his 1990 season, but he was healthy enough to take the mound yesterday and pitch two innings in intrasquad competition.
"It was just a scare," he said, "but I was worried because I had the problem last year. They said it was nothing serious, so I didn't see any reason not to throw."
His first competitive performance in a Baltimore Orioles uniform drew mixed reviews -- he gave up two runs on five hits -- but all Robinson wants to do is prove he's healthy and ready to pitch. The rest, as far as his place in the club's pitching plans is concerned, will take care of itself.
"I didn't have to throw today," Robinson said. "I talked to Frank [Robinson] again this morning for about 15 minutes. He told me that the main thing is if my arm is OK. He told me, if I don't want to throw, I don't have to throw. This stuff isn't that important."
There are more than five candidates for the starting rotation, but Robinson said he has been assured by the manager that he will be one of the five starters if he's ready when the regular season opens.
"That was the thing I talked to Frank about," Robinson said. "He knows what I can do. I don't have to prove anything. He wants me to be ready for when the season starts. I don't have any fear about not being in the starting rotation."
The Orioles gave up power-hitting catcher Mickey Tettleton to acquire Robinson from the Detroit Tigers. Just days earlier, they made room in the rotation when they sent Pete Harnisch to the Houston Astros as part of the package for Glenn Davis. Robinson has been ticketed for the rotation from the start, but the manager has not publicly conceded one of the five spots to him yet.
"My intent is for him to be in the rotation," Frank Robinson said. "He doesn't have to impress me in spring training. He's not here to win a spot. All he has to do is get himself ready. But it's too early to say that the spot is his."
There are five other starters who also feel confident of winning a job if they pitch well enough. Ben McDonald is a lock. So is Dave Johnson. Bob Milacki and Jeff Ballard will be there if they come back successfully from injuries. And Jose Mesa made a big impression after joining the rotation late last season.
It seems apparent, however, that Robinson's experience will be welcome in an otherwise youthful rotation.
"I'm really happy to be here," he said. "I enjoyed the years I played in Detroit. It's a good city to play in, and they have some great guys. I had a lot of fun there, but you reach a point when you think a change would be nice. I let them know that I was thinking that way."
The Tigers had once considered him a major part of their pitching future, especially after he delivered winning seasons in his first two years at the major-league level. He was particularly impressive in 1988, when he was 13-6 with a 2.98 ERA in his sophomore season. But injuries cut that season short and were a factor in each of the next two years.
He was a respectable 10-9 in 1990, but had one of the highest ERAs (5.96) of any full-time starter.
"We saw that," said general manager Roland Hemond, "but you also are aware of the way he pitched at other times. In '88, he looked like he was going to win the Cy Young Award until he came up with a circulation problem in his hand."
Robinson made a big impression on the Orioles in a game at
Tiger Stadium last year. He carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning before giving up back-to-back home runs to Mike Devereaux and Brady Anderson.
"He had exceptional stuff that night," Hemond said. "He was almost unhittable."
He was far from that in the intrasquad game yesterday, but this is one first impression that probably won't carry much weight.