DETROIT -- The Orioles may have seen the last of right-hander Bob Milacki, whose final appearance of the 1992 season did little to enhance his chances of winning a place in the club's rotation next year.
The question, which became particularly cogent after Milacki dropped a 4-2 decision to the Detroit Tigers last night, is whether he will be in an Orioles uniform when spring training opens in February.
Milacki didn't exactly force the issue. He gave up four runs on seven hits over six innings to end his season with a 6-8 record and a 5.89 ERA, leaving the Orioles to decide whether they want to renew his contract this winter.
There is plenty of room to speculate that Milacki will not be back. He could be lost in the expansion draft. The club could choose not to tender him a contract, since the minimum tender salary would be $944,000 (80 percent of his 1992 salary). He could be traded.
But the club also could decide that he has enough potential to warrant one more year at nearly $1 million, or the Orioles could release him and re-sign him at a lower salary.
Manager Johnny Oates wasn't interested in speculating. He would not even say whether Milacki would get a chance to return to the rotation if he comes to spring training.
"I don't know who is going to be back and who isn't, so I can't say what's going to happen," Oates said. "I suppose it would be safe to say Mike Mussina and Ben McDonald and Gregg Olson will be there next year, but beyond that, I don't know."
Milacki was not available for comment after the game, and he didn't make his case very well on the mound, where he served up six doubles and pitched with runners on base in every inning after the first. He was 7-1 in a six-week stint with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings this summer and pitched glowingly in his only other start since (Sept. 1 vs. Oakland), but his last impression was not his best.
"He has ranged from outstanding to OK," Oates said. "He was outstanding in Oakland. Today he was just OK. I haven't seen him enough since he's been back to make a fair evaluation. When he pitched against the A's, he looked like a 20-game winner. Tonight, he just got behind everybody."
Perhaps the law of averages had to catch up with the Orioles, who have hammered the Tigers all year.
The Orioles won 10 of the 13 meetings against Detroit, one of only two American League East teams to have a losing record against Baltimore this season.
Milacki was beginning to wonder if he would ever get another chance to start. In his spot start against the A's, he gave up just four hits over eight innings, but the acquisition of left-hander Craig Lefferts kept him from re-entering the rotation.
He also pitched impressively in his only other extended outing since he returned from the minor-league assignment, going 6 1/3 innings and giving up three hits in a mop-up job against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 24.
Last night's start was one more opportunity for Milacki to show that he was back on track after a difficult first half of the season. He has said that he wants to be back with the Orioles in 1993, but he knew that it wouldn't hurt to make a good final impression on anyone who might be watching from afar.
The upcoming expansion draft could provide his opportunity to pitch full-time in a major-league starting rotation, or an opportunity could arise with a team that loses a starting pitcher in the draft.
The Tigers were not very helpful. They scored two runs in the third inning and another in the fourth to take an early three-run lead.
Milacki has been vulnerable to the long ball this year, but the Tigers took the shorter route, showering him with doubles throughout the early innings. Dan Gladden and Mark Carreon, the eighth and ninth hitters in the order, opened the third with back-to-back two-base hits for the first run of the game. Lou Whitaker followed with a one-out double for the second run of the inning.
Right fielder Rob Deer opened the fourth with a double to left and eventually made it 3-0 when he jogged home on a sacrifice fly by Carreon.
The Orioles had runners on base in every inning against Tigers starter John Doherty, but they didn't get on the scoreboard until the sixth, when Cal Ripken delivered a one-out single and Glenn Davis drove a ball into the left-field bleachers for his 12th home run of the season.
Milacki worked through the sixth, but he gave up another run on back-to-back doubles by Scott Livingstone and Gladden. In all, the Tigers had six doubles and just one single off Milacki. The bottom two spots in the Tigers' batting order were particularly productive, contributing four hits and driving in two runs during the first six innings.
Tigers third: Gladden doubled to center. Carreon doubled down the left-field line, Gladden scored. Phillips sacrificed to pitcher Milacki, Carreon to third. Whitaker doubled down the right-field line, Carreon scored. Fryman walked. Fielder fouled to first baseman Segui. Tettleton flied to center fielder Devereaux. 2 runs, 3 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on. Tigers 2, Orioles 0.
Tigers fourth: Deer doubled down the left-field
line. Livingstone lined to center fielder Devereaux. Gladden singled to center, Deer to third. Carreon hit sacrifice fly to center fielder Devereaux, Deer scored. Phillips grounded to first baseman Segui. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Tigers 3, Orioles 0.
Orioles sixth: Devereaux grounded to third baseman Livingstone. C. Ripken singled to center. G. Davis homered to left on 2-2 count, C. Ripken and G. Davis scored. Martinez singled to left, and
Martinez out advancing, left fielder Carreon to second baseman Whitaker. Hulett grounded to second baseman Whitaker. 2 runs, 3 hits, 0 errors, 0 left on. Tigers 3, Orioles 2.
Tigers sixth: Deer grounded to pitcher Milacki. Livingstone doubled to right. Gladden doubled down the left-field line, Livingstone scored. Carreon flied to left fielder Anderson. Phillips flied to left fielder Anderson. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Tigers 4, Orioles 2.