Forkball's bite takes a chunk out of Forney


BOWIE -- He is the only member of the Bowie Baysox's 1994 "Fab Five" starting staff who is not playing as high as the Triple-A level. But Rick Forney is not whining about it.

While Vaughn Eshelman has had success with the Boston Red && Sox, Scott Klingenbeck is up with the Orioles and Jimmy Haynes and Brian Sackinsky are thriving with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, Forney is back at Double-A Bowie, his pitching arm hurting and his career idling.

The forkball, his out pitch, has increased both his strikeout totals and his pain level, and Forney is trying to recover both his health and a fastball that once approached 90 mph.

Still, he is thankful to be living in his Arnold home, optimistic that his physical problems will abate and more understanding about what Latin players face here after playing in Venezuela last winter.

"I can appreciate what we have in this country," he said. "Baseball is real exciting in Venezuela. The fans are very enthusiastic and every game is like a World Series. It was fun being at the game even when you weren't pitching.

"But it was a little difficult being there when you can't speak the language. You can see what guys like Armando Benitez and Manny Alexander go through when they come here."

Forney had a splendid season with the Single-A Frederick Keys in 1993, but, despite a 13-8 record and a seven-inning perfect game against Trenton, he began having problems with the Baysox last season.

His ERA soared to 4.62, he gave up more hits than innings pitched for the first time, and he had to go on the disabled list and miss starting the decisive fifth game of the Southern Division playoffs against the Harrisburg Senators when his arm became inflamed.

"That was kind of heartbreaking. I wanted to be out there at crunch time," Forney said. "Garrett [Stephenson] had to start that final game and he hadn't been here long, so it was tough on him."

Bowie manager Bob Miscik said Forney's problems stem from "falling in love with his forkball. You get a lot of strikeouts with it because it's a hard pitch to hit, but it's also tough on the arm. It may be what's causing his elbow to hurt."

Miscik says Forney has to regain velocity on his fastball, which has fallen to the low 80s, and to become more aggressive with that pitch.

"When I saw him in the instructional league in 1992, he was throwing mostly fastballs and sliders," Miscik said. "That got him pointed in the right direction. But now he is pitching backward, falling behind with the forkball. If the fastball is not your best pitch, you've got trouble."

The difficulty is inflammation in the ulnar nerve, something that is not overly serious, but requires icing and rest. The elbow stiffens, especially in cool weather.

Rochester in April -- where Forney began the season -- certainly qualifies as a cool-weather site, but he did not stay long. When the major-leaguers broke camp, Forney was back in Maryland.

"If there hadn't been a strike, I wouldn't have been in Rochester at all," he said. "Coming back here was just a matter of time."

The injury forced him to change his pitching mechanics and stalled his career. He thought he could be in the majors by the end of this season after the performance at Frederick. Now, that idea probably is shot.

"My arm didn't feel all that great last year [1994] and I wound up throwing four games at Maryland [Shipley Field, a haven for hitters]. Give up five runs there and you've pitched well. So, my confidence was kind of down," he said.

Now, Forney is struggling to regain top form. Only 23, he still has time to get back on the fast track to Baltimore.



Name: Rick Forney

Position: Pitcher

Team: Bowie Baysox, Double-A Eastern League

Parent organization: Orioles

Throws: Right

Age: 23

Schools: Annapolis High, Anne Arundel CC

Estimated arrival in majors: 1997


Pitches: Fastball, forkball, curveball, changeup

Best pitch: Uses the forkball as his finisher and winds up with a lot of strikeouts that end in a catcher-to-first throw.

Working on: Regaining arm strength that has lowered the speed on his fastball. Changing his pitching pattern.


Yr. Team .. .. .IP .. W-L .. ERA

1991 Gulf Coast 65 2/3 ..7-0 .. 2.19

1992 Kane Cty . 123 1/3 .3-6 .. 2.48

1993 Frederick .165 . 14-8 ..2.78

Bowie .. .. .. .7 .. .0-0 .. 1.29

1994 Bowie .. . 165 2/3 .13-8 . 4.62

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