Orioles hope veterans steady young pitchers

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles pitching staff has aged considerably over the winter months, but club officials say they wouldn't have it any other way.

The off-season acquisition of veterans Rick Sutcliffe, Storm Davis and Dennis Rasmussen gives the club added depth and credibility, even if there is no guarantee that any of them will produce on the mound. The team is betting that the intangible experience factor has a positive effect on the youthful nucleus of the starting rotation.

"The players that we brought in here were pretty much handpicked," said manager John Oates, who presided over his first spring training workout yesterday at Twin Lakes Park. "I know them. I know what's going on inside of them."

Sutcliffe, for example, was chosen because of his outstanding ,, track record and his fierce competitive spirit. He is not a vocal leader, but his positive impact on several promising young pitchers in Chicago was not lost on the Orioles.

"Rick is going to be a good example in the same way that Cal Ripken Jr. is a good example," Oates said. "When Rip runs out a routine ground ball, the young guys see that and they know that if he's doing it, they should be doing the same thing. I think when Rick Sutcliffe pitches into the eighth or ninth inning, the young pitchers are going to want to pitch into the eighth or ninth inning."

Sutcliffe thinks so, too, but he considers any intangible benefit derived from his presence to be secondary to the job at hand. He is trying to come back from two years of shoulder problems, and he has to worry about getting himself into the eighth or ninth inning before he can set an example for a Ben McDonald or a Jose Mesa.

His shoulder apparently is sound. He went 4-1 with a 2.33 ERA in his final 10 starts of 1991, but he still has to prove to himself that he can be that effective over the course of a season.

"Experience is great, but the main reason I was acquired was to give this team 200-240 innings," he said. "That's my main objective. If I can help some young guy with my thoughts, that's just icing on the cake. If I can help, I'll be glad to, but my main objective is to contribute every fourth or fifth day."

That would be leadership enough, but general manager Roland Hemond says that the personal interaction between veteran players -- particular pitchers -- and their juniors is invaluable. He is not short on examples.

"When I was in Chicago and Tom Seaver was on our staff, he would talk about the three or four outs in a ballgame that you must get," Hemond said. "They might come in the third inning or the seventh, not always in the ninth. He would preach that to our guys, that there are situations when you must make your best pitch and you have to be prepared for them. Some young pitchers might not know that if somebody didn't tell them. I thought Mike Flanagan played the same kind of role in helping our bullpen last year."

Davis has seen the situation from both sides now. He arrived in the major leagues to join an Orioles rotation that already included future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer and standout veterans Scott McGregor, Dennis Martinez and Flanagan. Now, he returns with several successful seasons behind him, as well as more World Series experience.

"I really relish the opportunity to help any of the guys who ask," Davis said, "because a degree of the success I've had goes to the men who took time out to share their thoughts with me. But hopefully, my actions will speak louder than words. I know that's a cliche, but I'm not a very talkative guy."

It isn't always a matter of giving advice anyway. The thing that Davis acquired from the standout Orioles rotation of the early 1980s was an appreciation of the value of discipline and hard work.

"I really learned a lot from their work habits, especially from Palmer," he said. "No one was on your back. You just find yourself doing the same things. They had success and you want to have success, so you do what they do."

Davis won 19 games for the world champion Oakland Athletics in 1989, but he has had trouble duplicating that success the past couple of years. He has come back to where he began his major-league career and seems optimistic that he can reconstruct his career as a starting pitcher.

"I'll be ready to fill that role," he said. "I have prepared myself mentally. I know what it's like to start 30 to 35 games. I can do it again."

Rasmussen, who also is coming off a pair of losing seasons, doesn't have a place reserved in the starting rotation, but he could end up as the club's lone left-handed starter if he pitches well over the next few weeks.

If he doesn't, he'll start the season with the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings, but the effect will be the same at a different level. He'll have nine years of experience to impart on the next generation of Orioles pitchers, while he waits for a chance to contribute something more tangible at the major-league level.

Orioles pitchers at a glance

7+ * Amalio Carreno right-handed, reliever

Minor-league free agent. Orioles hope Phillies were as wrong about him as they were Todd Frohwirth.

1% Storm Davis Right-handed, starter

Can he turn back the clock to his youthful days with starter the Orioles? If so, he's a lock to make the rotation.

0 Francisco de la Rosa Right-handed, reliever

Late-season arm injury slowed progress last year. Still a prospect, but a long shot this year.

4( Mike Flanagan Left-handed, reliever

Smooth transition to bullpen makes veteran a key member of relief corps. Still tough on left-handed hitters.

6* Todd Frohwirth Right-handed, reliever

Unorthodox style makes him tough on right-handed hitters. Needs another good year to establish himself.

2& Eric Hetzel Right-handed, starter

Perennial prospect with Red Sox. Signed as a minor league free agent. An outside chance, but his fate may depend on somebody getting hurt.

1% Jim Lewis Right-handed, reliever

Limited big-league experience. Likely to start at Class AAA.

3' Richie Lewis Right-handed, starter

A former No. 1 pick with Expos. A dark horse to make the staff, but maybe not until the end of the season.

3' Ben McDonald Right-handed, starter

Should have better chance to fulfill lofty expectations after two injury-filled seasons. Has the best ability among starters.

Jose Mesa Right-handed, starter

No. 2 starter this time a year ago, now faces uphill battle to win job.

2& Bob Milacki Right-handed, starter

Like a yo-yo first three years. Appears more settled and confident, he's counted on for many innings.

3' Mike Mussina Right-handed, starter

Has come on strong after being No. 1 pick in 1990. A sure starter if he stays healthy. Some think he'll surpass McDonald.

3' Gregg Olson Right-handed, reliever

Had disappointing season by his standards, but can be come dominant reliever in the league. The bullpen anchor.

Brad Pennington Left-handed, reliever

Up from Class A, but on roster only as protection from minor-league draft. At least two years away.

0$ Jim Poole Left-handed, reliever

Along with Frohwirth and Flanagan, the biggest surprise of 1991. Should have best years ahead of him.

7+ *Dennis Rasmussen Left-handed, starter

Veteran has had success as a starter in American League. A sleeper candidate for rotation, especially in case of an injury.

3' Arthur Rhodes Left-handed, starter

Perhaps best raw talent on the staff. Still appears to be at least a year away.

0$ *Israel Sanchez Left-handed, S/R

Impressed at Class AAA last year. Another sleeper, but most likely a call-up candidate later.

5) Rick Sutcliffe Right-handed, starter

A minimal risk to give the staff experience and direction. Extremely tough competitor. If he stays healthy, can be a reliable leader on staff that needs one.

6* Anthony Telford Right-handed, starter

He's been on the fringe the last two years. May need another pitch. Destined to return to Class AAA, where he needs a strong year.

7+ Mark Williamson Right-handed, reliever

Has been a workhorse the past three years. Should be more effective with improved starters, a deeper bullpen and less workload.

, *-Non-roster invitee to camp

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