Starters present pleasant problem Kamieniecki makes strong statement with production in rotation


CHICAGO -- In three starts totaling 15 2/3 innings, Scott Kamieniecki has come to represent the strength of the Orioles' rotation. One problem: He might not be there for long.

Only a week after manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Ray Miller wondered when their starting pitchers would find their form, they have received an encouraging answer. Not only have the Orioles jumped to a 9-3 start, they've done so largely on the arms of Jimmy Key, Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson and Kamieniecki. In three starts, Kamieniecki is 1-0, has allowed only 11 hits and has helped preserve a bullpen once threatened by early wear.

Kamieniecki's five-inning outing Tuesday against the Minnesota Twins was as meaningful as it was harrowing. He walked the bases loaded with no one out in the fourth inning, escaped with only one run allowed, and gained his first win since last April 30 and only his second since Sept. 30, 1995.

At this time last season, Johnson was growing increasingly concerned over Kent Mercker. The ensuing scramble led to an unseemly collection of fifth starters and eventually a disruptive return to a four-man rotation. With Kamieniecki, he has received competent performances from a role that once represented a black hole.

Entering last night's game, the rotation had produced a 1.76 ERA with 29 hits allowed in 41 innings over its last six games. Kamieniecki appeared twice in the span.

The Orioles have won each of his starts, two too late for him to be involved in the decision. Tuesday, Kamieniecki was done for the night when Jeff Reboulet singled home Lenny Webster for the eventual winning run.

"I've certainly pitched better than that without getting a win, so it was nice to finally get one. But I expect there to be more than that," he said.

If so, they may have to come from the bullpen. With Rocky Coppinger expected to rejoin the rotation next week, either Kamieniecki or last night's starter, Shawn Boskie, will be removed. The indication thus far is that Kamieniecki, labeled as fifth starter, should be the one to leave. Kamieniecki admittedly lost his mechanics during the fourth Tuesday.

"He was going all over the place with his upper body," said Miller, who made a mound visit to help his pitcher with his bearings. "He was going from side to side. He needed to make an adjustment but it was tough for him."

The situation may have become more complicated last night when Boskie staggered through his first start since April 5. Boskie surrendered four first-inning runs.

"We'll have to see what happens," Johnson said beforehand. "It's a good problem to have. Too much pitching. You love it."

Pub Date: 4/17/97

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