DETROIT -- As Ben McDonald pulled off his jacket yesterday to warm up for his first major-league appearance in two months, everything felt strange.
Strange, because throwing doesn't come naturally to McDonald right now, after such a long layoff. His mechanics are halted, his control sporadic. Strange, because as the lifelong starter prepared to pitch, there was a game going on, and another guy TC was throwing next to him in the bullpen.
McDonald shook off his feelings of discomfort, how ever, and threw four good innings of relief in the Orioles' 7-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers yesterday afternoon. McDonald replaced Rick Krivda, who was hit around in the early innings -- again -- and suffered his sixth loss in eight decisions.
Not that the Orioles are preoccupied with their dire standing in the AL wild-card race, but they've just about been eliminated there, too: With 10 games to play, they were 8 1/2 games behind Seattle going into last night.
McDonald last pitched July 19, and several days later he was placed on the disabled list with tendinitis in his right shoulder. His comeback has been slowed by several flare-ups in the weeks since, and his actual mound experience was limited to a simulated game in August, two short minor-league rehab starts in September and a handful of bullpen workouts.
Yesterday's outing, McDonald said, "Felt like spring training, because it had been so long since I pitched last."
Over his four innings, McDonald allowed a run on three hits with a walk and two strikeouts. He improved with each inning, his control of his fastball getting better; McDonald would say later that rather than cut loose completely, he was taking a little off his fastball to get it over the plate.
He started the fifth inning, Orioles down 6-3 at the time, and with two outs he walked Tony Clark, allowed a line drive single to Danny Bautista and Scott Fletcher's ground single past third baseman Bobby Bonilla for a run.
But McDonald cut down the Tigers in order in the sixth, gave up a weak single in the seventh, and Detroit went 1-2-3 in the eighth. "I thought Ben threw pretty well," said Orioles manager Phil Regan.
"It looked like he was trying to find his way early, but he settled down and found his rhythm."
His early awkwardness aside, McDonald was pleased, generally speaking. "I want to show them I'm healthy," McDonald said, referring to the Orioles, "and show everybody else I'm healthy."
By that, McDonald meant any other teams -- potential suitors -- following his progress, in the event the Orioles don't bring him back next year. The way McDonald figures it, he could get a few more relief appearances, or get a start, although Regan gave no indication that would happen.
But McDonald may get opportunities unless Krivda can find a way through the early innings, a problem for him the last month. In Krivda's last eight starts, he has a 6.00 ERA in the first three innings, almost double his ERA of 3.41 from the fourth inning on.
At other times, Krivda has pitched through early-inning trouble and had some good games. The Tigers, however, got to him early when his control suffered, and the left-hander lasted just 3 1/3 innings.
Krivda walked three, and each eventually scored. Alan Trammell and Travis Fryman walked with one out in the first, and came home on RBI hits by Phil Nevin and Clark as the Tigers took a 3-1 lead. Then in the fourth, with the score tied, Bautista homered and Ron Tingley walked and scored when reliever Jim Dedrick allowed a two-run shot to Chad Curtis.
"I just couldn't get ahead of anybody," Krivda said. "When you're walking people and getting behind the count all the time, that's what happens."
The early trouble for Krivda is becoming so acute that Regan said he may consider the possibility of adjusting the left-hander's pre-game routine.
Normally, a starting pitcher throws about 70-75 pitches before a game. Maybe, Regan said, Krivda should throw more as he warms up, so that by the time he takes the mound he's ready to go.