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Fernandez questions 'demotion'


Orioles left-hander Sid Fernandez, who said he considered retiring after his last outing, said yesterday that he disagrees with the way the club has handled him.

"I'm coming around," Fernandez said. "Obviously, this team doesn't think I'm coming around."

Fernandez pondered retirement after giving up three runs -- all bases-empty homers -- in 3 2/3 innings in a 5-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday night.

"Maybe it's over," Fernandez said after that loss. "Maybe it's done and it's time to get out of the way."

It's not over for Fernandez, yet. Manager Phil Regan reassigned him to the bullpen. And Fernandez said his family and friends, including Minnesota Twins pitcher and former New York Mets teammate Rick Aguilera, talked him out of retirement.

"They told me it would be foolish to give up the money they gave you," said Fernandez, in the second year of a three-year, $9 million contract.

They also helped Fernandez change his attitude. Now he says his outing Thursday -- his first start since coming off the 15-day disabled list with a sore muscle below his left clavicle -- wasn't that bad. And he said Regan should have kept him in the game.

"I feel better," Fernandez said. "I had 70-something pitches, but I could have gone a couple more innings, into the sixth or seventh innings at least."

Said Regan: "He can second-guess me if he wants to. That's a managerial decision. He pitched a 3-0 game. You pitch a shutout and you stay in the game."

Fernandez gave up two homers to Joe Carter and one to Ed Sprague. But Fernandez, who also struck out six, said those homers shouldn't have caused Regan to remove him.

"This is the way I pitched in the National League," Fernandez said. "I gave up home runs, always have."

Some might argue that point. Fernandez gave up a career-high 27 homers in 115 1/3 innings last year after allowing 138 in 1,706 innings before the 1994 season.

Fernandez said he had good control Thursday, though after that game he was talking like a pitcher who was through. "I've struggled before," he said then, "but not like this."

Yesterday, Fernandez said: "I walked one guy. . . . I'm getting better, a little stronger. [HTS broadcaster] John Lowenstein came up to me and said it's the best he's seen me throw all year. I don't know what they're looking for."

Regan knows. In Fernandez (0-4, 7.67 ERA), he wants victories but at the least six or seven solid innings. Fernandez has only gotten into the sixth inning one time this year.

"He's probably not coming around yet or he wouldn't be in the bullpen," Regan said.

Part of Fernandez's change of heart about his last outing is his displeasure with his new assignment. The only times Fernandez has been a reliever was in three World Series appearances in 1986.

"I'm not happy about it," Fernandez said of his new role. "This is not helpful. It's just a demotion."

Regan, who plans on using Fernandez in long relief and had him warming up when Mike Mussina got into some fourth-inning trouble last night, acknowledged that. He also said Jim Palmer told him that after Earl Weaver put him in the bullpen, Palmer came back stronger.

If Fernandez wants to get back into the starting rotation, Regan said, he's going to have to earn it.

"There are no guarantees in baseball," Regan said. "You play when you earn it. There are no guarantees you play when you don't perform. That's what he has to do right now. He has to work himself back in the starting rotation."

Fernandez said he has resigned himself to the bullpen and to sticking it out for the last 1 1/2 years of his contract.

"I'll just go ahead and warm up," Fernandez said. "I'm ready and willing."

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