Fernando Valenzuela came very close to his first big league win in three years last night, but he just couldn't reach it.
Valenzuela turned in his longest performance in the majors since September 1990, pitching seven effective innings against the Kansas City Royals, but getting a no-decision in the 5-4 loss.
"We didn't win the game, but I was looking to keep the team in the game and give it a chance to win the game. I hope next time to have my first one [win]," said Valenzuela.
The left-handed screwballer likely pitched well enough to silence any questions about his place in the Orioles rotation after two rocky starts.
Valenzuela (0-2) gave up three runs and four hits, striking out three and walking three, while throwing 111 pitches for his longest stint since he threw a complete game against Cincinnati while still a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers in September 1990.
Last night's start marked the first time this season that Valenzuela, plugged into the fifth spot in the Orioles rotation after a dazzling spring, had worked a regular turn after four days off, and he could sense his progress.
"I like to pitch every fifth day. Right now, it's very good for me, because I can pitch every fifth day. I can help and do a lot better every five days," said Valenzuela.
During one stretch, Valenzuela retired 12 consecutive and 14 of 15batters.
Said Kansas City manager Hal McRae: "It's good to see him do well. He's been a big plus for the game. You don't want the guy to beat you. He pitched inside extremely well."
Valenzuela's only rocky period was the first inning, when he gave up his three runs, with the principal damage coming from the bats of leadoff man Brian McRae, who tripled into the left-field corner, and a two-run double off the bat of catcher Mike Mcfarlane.
"Everybody has a tough inning and I've been having that the last two starts. I tried to do too much, too hard from the beginning. I didn't have a good break in my breaking pitch. I got the ball up, but I pitched close to normal after that," said Valenzuela.
Orioles manager Johnny Oates said: "I thought he pitched real well. In the first inning, I think he was trying to impress people. He tried to blow it by everybody. Boz [pitching coach Dick Bosman] and I talked to him after the first inning. We just told him, 'You don't have to impress anybody. Just pitch.' "
Valenzuela did that, though he admitted that he was trying to impress.
"I tried to do good, because the coaching staff and Johnny gave me a lot of confidence and they gave me a chance to be a part of the team. I want to do good for him and probably sometimes I try to do too much. After that inning they told me to just go out there and throw the ball and do the best you can."