Throughout his seven-year career, Todd Frohwirth has been like the guy who comes to the party late and leaves before you run into him the second time.
"In seven years in the minor leagues, I never pitched more than three innings," Frohwirth (6-3) said after pitching 4 2/3 scoreless innings as the Orioles beat the New York Yankees 6-3 last night.
It was the eighth time (in 43 appearances) since he joined the Orioles May 20 that Frohwirth has topped his previous career-high for innings pitched in a single game.
He had been labeled, not incorrectly, as the perfect example of a pitcher you don't want facing a lineup for a second time. And, as a closer, only rarely did he get the opportunity.
Now, at the age of 28, after six years in the Philadelphia Phillies' organization, he finds himself in a different role, that of a setup man for Gregg Olson. That sometimes requires manager John Oates to stretch him beyond his normal limit.
"It's getting a little easier," said Frohwirth, "because I'm getting better against lefthanded hitters. It's new to me, but I'm beginning to think it's a role I can handle."
Frohwirth handled it with such aplomb last night that he ended up in his old role as well. With a three-run lead going into the ninth, it has become almost a foregone conclusion that the bullpen gates would open for Olson to make an entrance.
The relief ace, who hasn't pitched now in four days, was ready, but Oates disdained making a move that has been almost automatic. The decision had nothing to do with the Orioles' relief ace.
"I'm going to give Gregg every opportunity to put numbers on the board," said Oates, "because he's done the job for us so often in the last three years. If Todd had struggled in any of the innings he pitched, I would have made the move.
"But he'd allowed only two baserunners, and the way he was throwing I couldn't justify taking him out. Sometimes he can go beyond his limit and lose it in a couple of pitches, but he didn't give any indication of that.
"If it gets to the point where the man at the plate, or the man on deck, can tie the game, then they're going to have to tie it against Olson," said Oates.
Frohwirth wound up facing only 15 hitters, one over the minimum, in his 4 2/3 innings, striking out five along the way. "If you had to rank what the biggest surprise has been for this club since spring training, it would be hard to pick someone other than Todd," said Oates.
"We were told that you could get one inning from him, two or three at the maximum, but he's given us five and six innings at times. And they've been quality innings."
With 78 innings in the big leagues and 24 2/3 at Triple A Rochester, Frohwirth has already established a career-high for innings pitched, surpassing last year's total of 84, one year with the Phillies, the other 83 at Scranton.
It was at Rochester this year, at the encouragement of Red Wings pitching coach Dick Bosman, that Frohwirth dropped his delivery from sidearm to an underhanded motion. That's the way he threw when he first came into pro ball in 1984, but the Phillies quickly changed him to more closely resemble Kent Tekulve, the former Pirates' ace.
Going back to his old style, Frohwirth discovered, enabled him to have more success against left handed hitters. "Throwing sidearm, when the ball would tail away from lefthanders it would be going toward the barrel of the bat," he said. "Throwing underhanded, it goes straight down, and that's a tough pitch for any hitter."
When he signed with the Orioles last year, Frohwirth realized he might be running out of time in his quest to reach the big leagues. He had made bit appearances with the Phillies in each of the last four seasons, but when he wasn't protected on the major-league roster he had the option of declaring as a minor-league free agent. The Orioles signed him shortly thereafter, last Dec. 12.
"This has been a great opportunity," said Frohwirth. "And, being 28, I realized it might be one of the last.
"I'm not surprised with the way I've pitched because for the last five years I didn't think I was as good as I could be.
"Now, I feel like I'm getting to be the best I can be."
Which is something the Orioles hope might be happening to their entire pitching staff. Since losing 14-3 to Minnesota, the Orioles have compiled a 2.47 earned run average in the last eight games.
Nothing spectacular, for sure, but possibly a start toward building the kind of consistency the Orioles have been looking for all year. They are now in a stretch of 26 straight games against Eastern Division teams, only two of whom (Boston and Detroit) have winning records.
"Two games don't make a season," said Oates, "but it's a nice way to start the week."