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A's release injured ex-Oriole Ballard Davis, Milacki vie for starting spots


PHOENIX -- The list of former Orioles seeking a fresh start with defending American League West champion Oakland decreased by one yesterday when the Athletics released injured left-hander Jeff Ballard.

Ballard, 29, was trying to revive his career in the A's minor-league camp, but Oakland club president Sandy Alderson said Ballard is suffering from an elbow problem that might require surgery.

It is not known whether the injury is related to the one that forced Ballard to undergo arthroscopic surgery for the removal of bone chips in 1989.

Ballard was 12-8 with a 2.52 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals' Triple-A Louisville affiliate last season, but wasn't among the 26 pitchers the A's invited to their major-league spring training.

Two other former Orioles -- Storm Davis and Bob Milacki -- are in much better position. Davis will be the No. 3 or 4 man in a rotation that should included Ron Darling, Bob Welch and Bobby Witt. Milacki is competing with Curt Young for the fifth spot.

Yesterday, Milacki made his second Cactus League appearance, allowing one run in three innings in the A's 5-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. He gave up four hits, but rallied from a 2-0 count to strike out Greg Vaughn with two on to escape his worst jam.

The Brewers led 3-2 in the eighth when another former Oriole -- Larry Sheets -- hit a two-run double. Sheets, a non-roster player returning from Japan, is 5-for-14 with three RBI this spring, and four of his hits are doubles.

And Milacki?

"I'm trying to get back to what got me here, trying to hang on," he said. "I know I struggled last year. I had some bad luck. I didn't pitch very well. There were games where with a few breaks it would have been a different story. But I still pitched awful."

Milacki, 28, finished 6-8 with a 5.84 ERA -- the third-highest ERA in Orioles history, behind only Ken Dixon (6.43 in 1987) and Jose Mesa (5.97 in 1991) according to the Elias Baseball Analyst (minimum: 100 innings pitched).

He still wonders if things might have turned out differently if he had gotten the two starts given to Richie Lewis in August and had continued to start in September instead of moving to the bullpen to clear a spot for Craig Lefferts.

But all that is behind him. The Orioles did not offer him a contract, and to his surprise, the A's showed the most interest. Milacki signed a Triple-A contract, and joined them as a non-roster player.

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