The future is now, and Oates hopes for winning attitude

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The future has arrived a little earlier than anyone in the Baltimore Orioles front office might have expected when the 1991 season began. Now it's time to find out whether it will be a bright one.

Right-hander Mike Mussina, the new standard-bearer for the Orioles youth movement, is scheduled to make his first major-league start today. Manager John Oates is putting anywhere from three to five rookies into the starting lineup every game.

The club obviously is in a rebuilding mode, but Oates and upper management insist that they are not throwing in the towel.

Well, they aren't, but it's just a matter of semantics. No one seriously believes that the Orioles can win the American League East this year, even if there remains an infinitesimal mathematical possibility. But there still is something to gain from 1991.

"A winning attitude," Oates said. "We can develop that by winning as many of the last 60 ballgames as we possibly can. Losing can be habit-forming. We are not going to tolerate that."

Oates firmly believes that one can win games and develop players at the same time. He saw it happen in 1989. Everybody saw it happen. He's hoping that the next two months put the Orioles in a position to contend next year.

The club was going to have to put some of these young players to the test at this level eventually. What better time to find out if they will be ready to start next season with the big-league club. Otherwise, they would be right back at square one next year -- wishing and hoping, but not really knowing.

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The Chicago White Sox celebrated the first anniversary of Frank Thomas' arrival at the major-league level on Friday with a statistical breakdown of his first year in the bigs.

Over that period, Thomas played in 161 games and led the major leagues in on-base percentage (.450). He also ranked first in walks (133), fourth in slugging percentage (.535), ninth in batting average (.318) and sixth in RBI (106). He was the only player to rank in the top 10 in all five of those categories.

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Detroit Tigers first baseman Cecil Fielder is one of five players who has not missed a game this year, and Sparky Anderson said he won't get a day off unless he asks for one. The Tigers manager is understandably reluctant to take Fielder out of the lineup, what with his 30 home runs and 88 RBI, but Fielder doesn't seem to mind.

"I never wanted to be Cal Ripken," Fielder said, "but as long as I feel good mentally, I want to play."

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Anderson told reporters recently that the Tigers would not be intimidated by large salaries in their pursuit of pitching help, but remain reluctant to give up any of their top young prospects.

"The money has nothing to do with it," he said. "We'll take on any salary, but we'll guard our young players with our life because that's all we've got. They're like strawberry jam -- you've got to preserve it."

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St. Louis Cardinals manager Joe Torre, after his club lost a tough

one on Tuesday night: "Maybe I'll go back to the hotel and watch 'Silence of the Lambs,' just to relax."

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Give former San Diego Padres outfielder Shawn Abner credit for being forthright. Here's how he summed up the deal that sent him to the California Angels in exchange for third baseman Jack Howell.

"If the guy [Howell] comes in and gets one hit a month, he'll do more than I ever did," said Abner, a former No. 1 draft choice. "I

did nothing -- absolutely nothing."

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Parting shot: Abner welcomed the change of scenery, especially the switch from Yuma, Ariz., to Mesa/Tempe for spring training.

"We weren't allowed to say anything bad about Yuma," Abner said. "Yuma stinks. I hope I never have to go back." He probably will have to go back, however. The Angels traditionally open their Cactus League exhibition season with a three or (arrghhh!) four-game series in the so-called desert spa.

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New Rangers pitcher Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd had the dubious pleasure of returning to the American League with back-to-back starts against his old teammates, the Boston Red Sox. He lost both, and was hammered for seven earned runs in 2 1/3 innings at Fenway Park.

"It was the worst day of my life," said Boyd, who did not leave the Red Sox on good terms. "It didn't make me feel good at all to pitch here. There are too many bad memories. For me to get traded and have to make my first two starts against the Boston Red Sox, God must hate me. It was like going to jail."

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have been in first place in the NL East since April 22, while the other three divisions have been in a state of flux. Over that period, the lead has changed hands 12 times in the AL West, with every team except the Kansas City Royals spending at least one day in first place. There have been 10 lead changes in the AL East, involving three teams, and seven lead changes in the NL West, involving four teams.

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The San Francisco Giants have streaked back into the middle of the NL West standings, thanks to a rejuvenated pitching staff. During the club's 11-game winning streak, Giants pitchers had a 1.82 ERA and did not give up more than three earned runs in any game.

The bullpen has been particularly effective, giving up two earned runs in 23 2/3 innings during the streak and recording seven saves.

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Mild-mannered California Angels catcher Lance Parrish couldn't contain himself any longer after he was ejected from Wednesday night's game at Tiger Stadium.

Parrish, mired in a 4-for-33 slump, flipped his bat away in disgust after Rick Reed called him out on strikes in the seventh inning. Reed responded by giving him the thumb.

"I'm up there trying to get something going," Parrish told reporters afterward. "I'm trying to be selective and they make it impossible -- Reed, in particular. He's the worst, in my opinion. He's a horrible umpire. He's just got no clue where the strike zone is. I don't think he deserves to be an umpire."

Chances are, Parrish will not have the last word. Dr. Bobby Brown has shown in the past that he has little patience for public umpire bashing. Just ask Frank Robinson.

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Kansas City Royals outfielder Danny Tartabull says that it is no coincidence that his batting average has risen about 50 points since Hal McRae was appointed manager.

McRae was the Royals hitting instructor in 1987, the season that Tartabull broke through with 34 home runs and 101 RBI.

"He's the guru," Tartabull said. "I learn from him every day. Every day is a new lesson. The man knows how to communicate with me."

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Detroit reliever John Kiely appeared in four consecutive games after he was recalled by the Tigers, but the first three didn't go very well. He pitched to 12 batters in three appearances against the Texas Rangers and recorded only two outs -- one of the outs coming on a sacrifice bunt. He gave up seven hits, two walks and hit a batter.

In his fourth appearance, Kiely pitched a scoreless inning against the Minnesota Twins.

"We didn't have a report on him," said Twins outfielder Dan Gladden, "so we pulled out the stat sheet and saw he gave up seven runs in two thirds of an inning. It could have been a misprint. It's got to be, because I thought he had pretty good stuff."

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When Atlanta Braves outfielder Otis Nixon stole his 58th base of the season this week, he broke a Braves record that had stood nearly 80 years. Ralph Myers stole 57 bases for the Boston Braves in 1913.

BONUS STAT: The last time a Braves player led the National League in stolen bases was 1955, when Billy Bruton won the title for the third straight year. Nixon has a chance to exceed Bruton's total for all three league-leading seasons (85).

The Texas Rangers are going to have to get their pitching staff together to stay in contention in the AL West. The bullpen has blown 19 saves in 1991 -- two more than all of 1990 -- and given up a major-league high 41 home runs. If that isn't troubling enough, the Rangers have used 12 starting pitchers this year, the most used by any major-league team. The club has remained competitive in the AL West, even though Jose Guzman (7-4) is

the only active starter with a winning record.

West is best

If there was any doubt about the dominance of the AL West this year, consider that every team entered the weekend with a .500 record or better against the East. Here is the team-by-team breakdown:

Twins.. .. ..42-20

White Sox.. .33-25

Athletics.. .35-27

Mariners.. ..40-23

Angels.. .. .32-30

Royals.. .. .32-30

Rangers.. .. 30-28

If this keeps up, look for the White Sox to get a firm grip on first place during the next three weeks. Chicago just began a string of 22 straight games against the East, while the first-place Twins go head-to-head with the A's, Angels and Mariners. The Rangers also could move up during a 21-game run against 3 struggling East teams (the Orioles, Indians and Brewers) that began on Friday.

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