DETROIT -- The move was made out of desperation, but the performance of Jeff Tackett in his major-league debut as a pitcher two nights ago ended up being the highlight of a lackluster series for the suddenly struggling Orioles.
Call it comic relief if you want to, but Tackett gave the bullpen a break and did nothing to embarrass himself when he pitched one scoreless inning in Wednesday night's 15-5 loss to the Detroit Tigers.
He also raised an interesting question: Could a major-league position player be converted into a major-league pitcher, if the arm strength and talent were there?
"It's been done," pitching coach Dick Bosman said, "but that kind of thing is not done very much these days. The hard part would be teaching a guy like that a usable breaking ball. The velocity is one thing, but it's got to be real overpowering to be useful."
Tackett throws harder than several pitchers on the staff, but there obviously is a lot more to it than that. His fastball was clocked at 92 mph in a minor-league pitching appearance, but the estimates for Wednesday night were in the mid-80s.
Give him credit, though. He wasn't shy. The Orioles were still riding catcher Mark Parent yesterday morning for letting Tackett shake off a sign the night before.
"I went out there and said we're going with one [fastball] and a wiggle [changeup]," Parent said. "He said, 'No. One is a fastball, two's a curveball, three's a slider and four is a changeup.' "
Tackett apparently threw three pitches, a fastball, curveball and changeup. He shook off Parent on a two-strike pitch to Tigers catcher Rich Rowland, changing a fastball to a curve.
"He wanted the punch-out bad," Parent said.
Manager Johnny Oates obviously would prefer never to have to use a position player on the mound again, but he had no choice on Wednesday night. The combination of a short outing from starter Rick Sutcliffe -- he didn't get out of the first inning -- and a banged-up bullpen left him needing to get out of the game with somebody left for yesterday's afternoon game.
"He said he could do it and he did it. He didn't look as bad as some guys, but he didn't look like a pitcher," said Oates, who again had to go deep into his bullpen yesterday in a 17-11 loss. "The main thing is, he didn't embarrass us and he did not get hurt."
Tackett became the fifth position player in the American League to be called in to pitch this year. The five of them have combined to give up three earned runs in 5 1/3 innings -- all of the runs given up by Jose Canseco in his ill-fated pitching appearance -- for a 5.07 ERA.
In case anybody's wondering, that ERA is better than those of veteran pitching stars Ron Darling, Storm Davis, Sutcliffe, Jack Morris, Mike Moore, Kevin Tapani and Dave Stewart, who will combine to earn $20.05 million this year.
Tackett actually had better control on Wednesday night than he did behind the plate yesterday. He took a throw on a potential home-to-first double play in the first inning and threw wide of first base for a run-scoring error.