FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Right-hander Scott Erickson has come a long way in the past 18 months. He came from Minnesota to Baltimore, from last place to the American League Championship Series, from struggling sub-.500 underachiever to winning pitcher.
Now, the Orioles would like to see him take the final step, the one that takes him back to where he was in 1991, when he won 20 games and helped lead the Minnesota Twins to a world championship. The trick, they think, is to find a way to get him off to a good start.
"Scotty has always finished real good," manager Davey Johnson said. "The last two months of last year, he was as good as I had as good as anyone in baseball. We're going to try and reverse that."
Erickson has been working toward that same goal all winter. He changed his workout routine, reducing the amount of time he spent in the weight room in the hope that a "looser" upper body would lead to a more fluid delivery. He also is throwing more in the early weeks of training camp, staying on the mound almost twice as long yesterday as his teammates.
"I always seem to end the season with something good to build on," said Erickson, who is a combined 8-1 in the two Septembers since he was acquired from the Twins. "I'm trying to pick up where I left off."
There is little doubt about his ability. He is durable. He has great stuff. There is no physical reason why he can't replicate the numbers he put up early in his career. It just took him a long time to get up to speed in his first full season in an Orioles uniform, so long that he had to win four of his last five starts just to finish one game above sea level (13-12).
Some credit last year's second-half upswing to the relationship TTC he forged with backup catcher Mark Parent, who evolved into Erickson's catcher late in the season. They got along well and they always seemed to be on the same wavelength, but the Orioles did not make a serious attempt to re-sign Parent after the season.
Erickson is getting used to that. He settled into the same kind of relationship with Junior Ortiz early in his career with the Twins, only to see Ortiz let go.
The Orioles appeared to be trying to create a similar situation when the club signed reserve catcher Lenny Webster this off-season. Webster also caught Erickson regularly with the Twins and the two go back to Double-A. Johnson acknowledged that their past affiliation played a part in the decision to sign Webster, but said yesterday that he isn't planning to allow Erickson to pitch exclusively to anyone.
"That's why we got Webster he likes to throw to Webster, but the way Scott pitched [late] last year, he's going to throw well to anyone. I'm not real fond of guys having personal catchers, because that affects what I might want to do with other players. You end up impacting two or three people.
"I'm trying to get away from that, but we'll play it by ear. Ask me again in April."
There is no question of Erickson's opinion. He made no secret of his desire to pitch exclusively to Parent last year, and he likes to get into a routine that allows him to pitch instinctively.
"It's nice to get the ball and grab a slider and then look up and see that the catcher is calling for the slider," he said. "Otherwise, you've got to shake the guy off and start thinking about it. When he calls the same pitch, then there's no doubt in your mind that it's the right pitch."
Webster is not in a position to campaign for anything. He's trying to prove to the club that he's worthy of regular work behind starting catcher Chris Hoiles.
"I think that might be a possibility," Webster said. "We worked well together in Minnesota but there was no indication that I would be Scotty's personal catcher. They indicated to me that I might catch a couple of games a week to give Chris some rest."
Though Webster has not seen Erickson pitch in person in several years, he has formed the same impression as everyone else about his potential to break through again this year.
"From what I've seen on television, he's still throwing the ball well and his stuff is as strong as any pitcher I've seen. I think he just needs to get off to a good start. If he can get it going the first part of the season, he could have a tremendous year."
Pub Date: 2/26/97