MOYER COMES FULL CIRCLE Orioles represent both painful end, fresh start in left-hander's career

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Maybe the thought would have crossed Jamie Moyer's mind if the Orioles still played at Memorial Stadium rather than at Camden Yards. Maybe it wouldn't have been buried as deep if so many things hadn't happened since to Moyer.

But there he was, sitting in the home team's dugout at Oriole Park on Thursday afternoon, being asked about it all. About the injury four years ago that sidetracked his career. About the irony of his resurrection this season with the Orioles.

"To this day, I don't know what happened," Moyer said. "I never really thought about it that way, but it's interesting the way things have worked out."

All he knows is this: Shortly after throwing a pitch to Mickey Tettleton in a game between the visiting Texas Rangers and the Orioles on May 30, 1989, Moyer began to experience discomfort in his left shoulder. Moyer thought it was a muscle pull.

It wasn't. A number of prominent orthopedists, including the famed Dr. Frank Jobe, diagnosed Moyer's ailment as a strained scapula. The injury, which then-Rangers manager Bobby Valentine attributed to the pitcher's mound at Memorial Stadium, caused Moyer to miss three months.

"The coaches in Texas felt that there might have been a problem with the mound, because Nolan Ryan and another of our pitchers also had some soreness after that series, but I've never had an answer," Moyer said. "All I know is that injury set me back. Three months felt like three years."

Moyer, who had won 28 games in his first 2 1/2 seasons with the Chicago Cubs and had started 3-0 with the Rangers that year, wound up with a 4-9 record and was released after going 2-6 in 1990. Thus began a two-year, four-team odyssey, all but two months of it in the minor leagues.

An 0-5 start with the St. Louis Cardinals led to a demotion to Triple-A Louisville in May 1991. Moyer didn't return to the major leagues until the Orioles called him up from Rochester in May of this year to replace injured Arthur Rhodes in the starting rotation. Moyer was out of baseball completely for six weeks last year.

"It took me a year [after the injury] to regain my arm strength," said Moyer, 30, who was invited by the Orioles to spring training as a non-roster player. "But when you get hurt and go back to the minor leagues, baseball has a way of feeling that you're not the same pitcher you once were."

It is especially true with off-speed pitchers -- "soft-tossers" they're called -- such as Moyer.

But if last season's 10-8 record and 2.86 ERA in Toledo or this year's 6-0 start with the Red Wings didn't convince the skeptics that Moyer still could pitch in the majors, the past two months have.

Back on winning track

Going into tomorrow's scheduled start against the Kansas City Royals, Moyer seemingly has put back together the pieces of a once promising career. After losing his first three starts with the Orioles, Moyer (5-4, 3.60 ERA) won five straight decisions before 4 2/3 erratic innings a week ago today against the Chicago White Sox.

"Right now he's making a lot of very good pitches," Orioles manager Johnny Oates said of Moyer.

Moyer's performance, which included three straight wins on a 10-game road trip last month, will make for some interesting decisions once Rhodes is healthy enough to return. The 23-year-old left-hander, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery May 18, is on a rehab assignment in Rochester.

A few years ago, Moyer might have fretted more about his future and taken those concerns to the mound every time he pitched. But along the road back to the big leagues -- a trip that included the birth of two sons to Moyer and his wife, Karen -- there came a feeling that few things aside from his control were within his control.

Fatherhood, and maturity

"I used to go out there thinking, 'If I don't pitch well, am I going to be sent down, are they going to release me?' " recalled Moyer, who became a minor-league free agent after the pitching-poor Detroit Tigers did not show interest after last season. "But I've never felt that way here, even in spring training. Mentally, I feel like I'm 30, and that experience has helped me. Physically I feel like I'm 25."

Karen Moyer says her husband's struggle had its benefits in terms of their personal life. While in Louisville, Ky., he was allowed to fly home to South Bend, Ind., between starts after the birth of their first child. Though the minor-league paycheck presented burdens on a young couple used to major-league comforts, it did provide a chance for the Moyers to grow up.

"I think having two children in the minor leagues really helped; it gave him a different perspective, that baseball wasn't the only thing in his life," said Karen Moyer, whose father is former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps. "You get as excited about a 2-year-old throwing a ball than your husband. We know what's important. Jamie taught me that you take every day as it comes. You don't take anything for granted."

Moyer is again throwing the way he did his first two years with the Cubs. Rick Sutcliffe, a teammate then and now, recalled that Moyer's changeup "was so nasty that in a bunting drill they had for the pitchers, we couldn't even get a bat on it." Oates, who was a bench coach for the Cubs then, said that he sees very little difference.

"He has to be able to spot the ball, and not only have control, but command," Oates said. "He has to make people swing at his pitches. He's the kind of guy you love to play behind, because when he's pitching well, you're going to be back in the dugout pretty quick."

There are a couple of differences. One is in Moyer's repertoire, which now includes a cut fastball instead of just a sinker to go along with the changeup. More importantly is Moyer's approach, which was altered some by Orioles pitching coach Dick Bosman during spring training.

Throughout his career, Moyer had been known as a nibbler, going for what is called "the black," the edges of home plate. Typically, it got him into trouble, and he found himself behind in the count. Bosman wanted Moyer to widen his target, to make batters hit him at 0-1 or 1-2 rather than wait on a pitch at 2-0.

"The nice thing about Jamie is that he's receptive to many ideas," said Bosman, who as a young pitcher for the Washington Senators received similar advice from a manager/legend named Ted Williams. "I didn't say, 'You've got to do what I did.' But my approach and his approach are similar."

subhed Tommy John he's not

Moyer said: "In the past, people tried to make me a Tommy John-type sinkerball pitcher, which I'm not. I haven't been around as long as Tommy was when he started pitching that way. I just have to go out and do what works for me.

"I'll do anything to contribute to this club."

If Rhodes returns to his form of late last season, or if the Orioles make a trade for another front-line starting pitcher, that might mean a different role for Moyer. With another young left-hander, John O'Donoghue, looming in the not-so-distant future, this season might also showcase Moyer for other teams short on left-handed pitching.

While Moyer would like his career to finish in Baltimore, he knows that he may be somewhere else next season.

He already is thinking about staying in baseball as a coach, but isn't quite ready to quit. Certainly not after all that he's been through just to get back.

"There's now been another door opened to me," said Moyer, who threw a four-hit complete game shutout against the Royals July 6 in Kansas City, but is still looking for his first win at home.

"I know I'm not a [No.] 1, 2 or 3 starter, but I know I can be a 4 or 5 starter, or pitch long relief. I'm a guy who's always going to be on the bubble."

In this case, Moyer and the Orioles hope that the bubble doesn't burst.

JAMIE MOYER'S PATH

* June 16, 1986: Makes his major-league debut with the Chicago Cubs and beats Steve Carlton and the Philadelphia Phillies. Finishes season 7-4.

* July 3, 1987: Sets a Cubs record with seven straight strikeouts against San Francisco. Finishes the year 12-15, and is second on the Cubs' staff in victories, starts (33) and innings (201).

* Dec. 6, 1988: After a 9-15 season, is traded to the Rangers with Rafael Palmeiro and Drew Hall for Mitch Williams, Steve Wilson, Curtis Wilkerson, Luis Benitez and Pablo Delgado.

* May 30, 1989: Experiences discomfort in his left shoulder after a game against the Orioles at Memorial Stadium. Placed on the disabled list the next day. After two months on the DL, spends 26 days on a minor-league rehab assignment before returning to the Rangers on Sept. 1.

* Sept. 10, 1989: Pitches a complete game against the Orioles for his first victory since April 19, 1989.

* Aug. 3, 1990: Pitches complete-game three-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays for his first victory since Sept. 10, 1989. Is released after a 2-6 season.

* Jan. 9, 1991: Signs with the St. Louis Cardinals as a free agent and goes to spring training as a non-roster invitee.

* May 24, 1991: After making seven starts (0-5, 5.74 ERA) for the Cardinals, is sent to Triple-A Louisville.

* Oct. 14, 1991: Released by the Cardinals.

* Feb. 7, 1992: Signs a minor-league contract with the Cubs.

* March 30, 1992: Released by the Cubs.

* May 24, 1992: Signs a minor-league contract with Triple-A Toledo (Detroit). Goes 10-8 with a 2.86 ERA.

* Dec. 8, 1992: Granted minor-league free agency.

* Dec. 17, 1992: Signs a minor-league contract with Triple-A Rochester.

* May 19, 1993: Recalled by the Orioles and makes his first start the next day against Cleveland.

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