Milacki bides time until his return to Orioles rotation


ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Right-hander Bob Milacki is waiting patiently for the day when he moves back into the Baltimore Orioles starting rotation, but what choice does he have?

"I just have to wait my turn," said Milacki, who is yet to make a start in 1991. "Sure, I'm anxious to get into the rotation, but there are guys who are ahead of me."

There really is only one pitcher who might be ahead of Milacki, and right-hander Dave Johnson struggled in each of his past three starts before he was sent to the bullpen. But manager Frank Robinson indicated last week that Johnson might get another chance to re-enter the rotation in the near future.

The reasoning is simple enough. Johnson was the winningest pitcher on the club last year, so he gets a little extra consideration. Milacki got the same treatment in 1990, after he won 14 games the year before.

"Dave Johnson won 13 games for us last year," Milacki said, "and he still has to get a shot after we get past all the off days. I'm willing to take the ball whenever they want to give it to me -- starting or relief."

Milacki would get the first shot if the decision was based purely on performance. He has made two lengthy relief appearances, pitching 10 1/3 innings and giving up one run on five hits. He also was overpowering in a series of starts for the Class AA Hagerstown Suns.

Robinson, who was impressed by the way Milacki responded to the demotion, apparently wants to see more of him out of the bullpen before restructuring the rotation. He is leaning toward Johnson for the next opening in the rotation, but he is not committing himself.

"Bob has definitely been better," Robinson said, "but I'd like to see him a little bit more. The next person [to enter the rotation] might be Bob Milacki or it might be Dave Johnson, or it might be that I don't have an answer right now."

There was a time not so long ago that Robinson didn't have any answers when it came to Milacki, whose 14 victories in 1989 made him an American League Rookie of the Year candidate. Shoulder problems contributed to a 5-8 performance last year, and there was enough room for doubt this spring to convince the Orioles to start him at Hagerstown.

Milacki wasn't thrilled to find out he was going back to the minor leagues. But he made the most of it, overpowering Class AA hitters until the injury to Glenn Davis opened a place on the roster on April 26.

"The bus rides weren't the funnest things in the world," he said. "You just had to hang with it. There were guys down there I knew, which made it a little easier.

"It's always frustrating when you're pitching well and you think you belong in the big leagues, but I thought I handled it well."

The three weeks in Hagerstown left Milacki with a new appreciation of life in the major leagues.

"In a sense, it was a confidence builder," he said, "but when I think back, it was more a case of being able to look back and see how you got here. I realized that you can't take anything for granted."

Milacki still has to prove something every time he takes the mound, but he appears to be ready to reassert himself, just as soon as someone re-inserts him into the starting rotation.

Orioles tonight


Site: Oakland (Calif.) Coliseum

Time: 10:35

Orioles starter: Ben McDonald (1-1, 6.75)

Athletics starter: Mike Moore (4-0, 3.26)

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)


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