Pennington needs to prove he can get lefties out


Brad Pennington and the month of April do not appear to be a good mix for the Orioles.

One year and three days after the big left-hander gave up the mammoth three-run homer to Ken Griffey that is still being seen around the country, it was deja vu.

Granted, the only thing Matt Merullo and Griffey have in common is that they bat left-handed. Which, in each instance, is the only reason Pennington was pitching.

In what undoubtedly was the beginning of the end, former manager Johnny Oates was severely chastised for allowing Pennington to pitch to Griffey after he threw a wild pitch with the bases loaded and the Orioles nursing a 6-3 lead in the eighth inning. Pennington was dispatched to Rochester the next day and didn't throw another pitch in the big leagues until three days ago.

But with the Orioles in the process of blowing a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning Thursday in Minnesota, new manager Phil Regan let Pennington face Merullo for the same reason Oates allowed him to pitch to Griffey a year ago.

If Pennington is going to be successful in the big leagues, and if he is going to help the Orioles contend, the one thing he must do is get out left-handed hitters. He won't be expected to get the Griffeys out as often as the Merullos -- but he will be expected to get them all out more often than not. That has not been the case.

Some said Oates was trying to make a point with the front office last April because Griffey was the seventh left-handed hitter of the eight Pennington faced to reach base. The point was: When was he going to succeed in situations in which he supposedly had the advantage?

That is still a valid question. One for which Pennington, Regan and pitching coach Mike Flanagan are going to have to find an answer.

Pennington already had dug his hole when Merullo came to the plate the other night. Had it been later in the game, Twins manager Tom Kelly might have opted for a pinch hitter.

But Kelly, who has the same statistics available as everyone else, knew that that would have necessitated a pitching change. With right-handed-hitting David McCarty on deck, everyone from Kelly to the beer vendor in the left-field stands knew that Merullo would be the last batter Pennington would face. Unfortunately for the Orioles, Merullo was on second base and the Twins led 5-4 when Pennington left.

This is hardly the time to give up on Pennington. No. 1, he has tremendous physical ability. No. 2, and more important, the Orioles desperately need someone to fill a void in the bullpen. Neither Jesse Orosco nor Jamie Moyer, the other left-handed relievers available, has a good record against left-handers.

One of the advantages of having three left-handers in the bullpen is it forces the opposition to make moves.

But that isn't going to happen until somebody proves he can pitch effectively against left-handed hitters.

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