4-man rotation could be salve for hurting O's


While manager Phil Regan is scrambling in an effort to find able bodies to fill out his starting rotation, this could be the right time for the Orioles to try out the latest fad.

It's called a four-man rotation.

It's nothing new really, just an old tradition that has been recycled of late.

Bob Boone has used it on a full-time basis at Kansas City. Lou Piniella, in Seattle, and Buck Showalter, in New York, have experimented with it more out of necessity caused by injuries. And in Texas, old pal Johnny Oates is working his rotation around his top three pitchers as often as possible.

The debate of the merits, and risks, of a four-man rotation is one that is carried on with gusto each year. With the drain of expansion, the number of quality major-league starters undeniably is spread extremely thin.

The arguments against the four-man rotation are guided solely by the perceived injury factor. Sometime in the last two decades somebody decided that four days of rest, instead of three, would protect the arms that have gotten increasingly more expensive.

Judging by the number of pitchers on the disabled list, that theory would not appear to hold a great deal of validity. Inexplicably, the change in philosophy has coincided with a dramatic downsizing of a starting pitcher's workload.

Anything over 100 pitches or seven innings, whichever comes first, is too often considered overtime. So, in effect, the starters are working less and resting more. That creates a ripple effect that involves additional strain on relievers which, in turn, requires an extra body in the bullpen, resulting in one less position player on the bench.

By stark contrast there is no doubting the benefits of using one less starting pitcher than usual.

The difference amounts to eight starts a year over a normal (162-game) full season. The best current example is Kansas City right-hander Kevin Appier, who has almost as many wins (11) as Orioles ace Mike Mussina has starts (13).

For every team in baseball, the search for a fifth starter has been as exhaustive as it has been fruitless. And, in fact, the same could be said of efforts to find an effective fourth starter.

Through last weekend, only one of the 28 major-league teams (the Phillies) had four pitchers with a minimum of seven starts over the .500 mark. And, even with 15 teams playing above the break-even mark, only eight others had as many as three starters with winning records.

Interestingly, of the eight teams that had five pitchers with at least seven starts through last weekend, only three (the Brewers, Dodgers and Expos) had as many as three pitchers above .500. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the Rangers.

Using a fifth starter only half as often as the others, the Rangers won 24 of the first 31 games started by their top three pitchers. Had they gotten anything from No. 4 starter Kevin Gross (2-7), the Rangers would've had a comfortable lead.

The numbers appear overwhelmingly in favor of an operation that utilizes four starters, rather than five. But old habits, especially bad ones, are hard to break.

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