BOSTON -- The longer it takes the Orioles to qualify for the playoffs, the more potential pitching problems they face.
The Orioles are playing for the present, selecting starters and churning through the bullpen with an emphasis on winning today. That philosophy may be necessary to get them in the playoffs, but it also could have detrimental postseason repercussions.
"Hopefully, we're going to win these games and have the bullpen chip in and have everyone strong for the last fight," manager Davey Johnson said. "And, hopefully, it doesn't go down to the wire. But I have a feeling it's going to go down to the wire."
If it goes down to the wire, the Orioles could be in trouble.
Rocky Coppinger starts today for the Orioles and Scott Erickson, Mike Mussina and David Wells pitch tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday, respectively. That means either Erickson, a playoff veteran, would have to pitch on two days' rest in the divisional playoff opener or Coppinger, a rookie, would start.
However, pitching coach Pat Dobson said if the Orioles can clinch a playoff spot by Saturday, then a pitcher like rookie Nerio Rodriguez would start the final regular-season game Sunday in Toronto, and Wells would get bumped back to the playoff opener Tuesday, which would give him five days' rest.
But if the Orioles don't clinch until Sunday, then Dobson said they'd lean to Erickson in the playoff opener.
"Scottie and Rocky and [Rick] Krivda have really given us our best starts lately," Dobson said. "At this time of the year, you would expect your top starters, from a concentration standpoint, to be at their best. And it just hasn't happened. They've made a lot of bad pitches."
The inability of the starters to pitch into the late innings has
complicated the bullpen situation.
Jesse Orosco had to pitch three straight games over the weekend and stiffened up, although Orosco said he is now fine and pitched two-thirds of an inning against Boston last night.
Alan Mills said his groin feels better now and he might be able to pitch today, but again Johnson is faced with a dilemma. If he brings back Mills too soon, he may be injured for the playoffs, but without Mills now, the Orioles may not make the playoffs.
In pursuit of picks
The Orioles are planning to contact three players who were selected in the first round of the June amateur draft to investigate the possibility of signing them.
The players were declared free agents Tuesday, because the teams that drafted them did not tender them contracts within 15 days of drafting them.
Minnesota originally drafted Travis Lee, a first baseman generally regarded as the top position player in the draft, with the second overall pick. Pitcher John Patterson was drafted fifth overall by Montreal. The San Francisco Giants took pitcher Matt White seventh overall.
Rhodes eager to throw
Disabled reliever Arthur Rhodes said he's eager to throw off a mound today for the first time in nearly two months.
Rhodes is on the DL with pain in the top of his pitching shoulder, but if all goes well today, he could be activated by the weekend.
"I'm going to watch him throw and talk to him [today]," Johnson said. "If Arthur comes back, I don't think I'd use him but for a batter or two."
Coppinger's rookie season
Coppinger will make his last regular-season start tonight in Toronto, in a game the Orioles desperately need to stay up in the wild-card race. He will be going for his 10th win.
Perhaps Chicago White Sox starter James Baldwin, who is 11-4 with a 4.27 ERA, has had a better rookie year than Coppinger (9-6, 5.48), but Johnson can make a strong case that the 22-year-old Texan he broke into the majors is the best rookie pitcher in the American League.
"I consider him one of my veterans," Johnson said. "He's had to go on three days' rest. I don't know who he's competing against, but he better get some consideration for rookie pitcher of the year.
"If you look at what he's had to do, as opposed to what a normal rookie has to do, there's a difference. Normally, you never put a rookie on three days' rest."
Johnson is famous for giving young pitchers their first shot at the majors. When he was managing the New York Mets, he introduced a number of young pitchersto big-league ball, including Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling and Rick Aguilera.
"He's come in at times and overthrown, but as a far as a rookie year, he's been as good or even better than some awfully good pitchers I've had," Johnson said.
"He's been a little more consistent than Ron Darling was, and he was a pretty good big-league pitcher. He's made adjustments actually quicker than Darling did. Same way with [Sid] Fernandez. Same way with [Aguilera]."
Incentive for Wells
Wells has a little wager going with his neighbor, Toronto Blue Jays starter Pat Hentgen, who is scheduled to pitch against Wells Sunday.
Hentgen will be going for his 20th win. Wells could be pitching with the Orioles' playoff hopes on the line.
Wells said he lives 20 yards from Hentgen in Clearwater, Fla., and they did a little trash talking in Baltimore last week, leading up to the last game of the season.
"Win or lose, I hope I stop him from winning 20 games," Wells
said. "That's my job. If I don't win, I won't feel bad, because he deserves to win 20."
Wells said the loser will have to get in the back of Hentgen's boat and relinquish the rights to the best fishing spots to the winner.
Around the horn
Wells surrendered three home runs to Mo Vaughn on Tuesday night, but dismissed the first two as being windblown. However, Wells said he truly admired the third homer. "The third one was a bona fide tater," Wells said. "That's the one I liked." Before Vaughn did it Tuesday night, the last Red Sox player to hit three home runs in a game was John Valentin on June 2, 1995. Last night's game was moved to a 7: 30 start to accommodate ESPN, which televised the game nationally.
Pub Date: 9/26/96