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Father figure Bernhardt helps set Benitez straight Nonroster Orioles coach settles young reliever

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Carlos Bernhardt is scheduled to return to the Dominican Republic after this weekend. The Orioles hope he will leave behind a comfort zone for Armando Benitez.

Bernhardt is the team's senior scouting supervisor in the Dominican Republic. He has signed more than 200 players, including Benitez, the Orioles' right-handed middle reliever and work in progress. For the past week, his responsibilities have including throwing batting practice and helping to settle his frazzled adopted son.

"He's like a father to me," Benitez said before last night's opener of a four-game series against the Seattle Mariners. "I've known him ever since I can remember. I've always looked up to him."

Benitez is only 24, a fact often overshadowed by his live fastball and imposing stature. His season has encompassed fits of brilliance and inexplicable runs of no control.

Hence, the summons from scouting director Gary Nickels to Bernhardt at the end of April.

Nickels left the message at general manager Pat Gillick's behest. Bernhardt was needed in Baltimore quickly.

During a three-game stretch from April 22-27, Benitez allowed five runs on five hits and four walks in 2 1/3 innings. The final indignation came April 27 against Boston when he allowed two home runs in a span of three hitters, then was ejected for throwing at third baseman Jeff Frye.

"He is still very young," said Bernhardt. "It is not the same to be 18 in the Dominican and 18 here. Here, these players are coming out of junior college. At home, they have been cutting sugar cane. It takes them time to grow up."

Benitez can handle himself, but there remain the remnants of a language barrier. Though Bernhardt hastens to say he does not unilaterally offer Benitez counsel on mechanics, he is ready to reinforce pitching coach Ray Miller's advice. Bernhardt and Miller played winter ball together 25 years ago. Bernhardt also is a confidante to second baseman Roberto Alomar, who celebrated Bernhardt's arrival with three home runs April 26.

"He relates well to both of them and other players as well," manager Davey Johnson said. "I value his judgment. Armando at times gets a little bit pumped up. He can help."

Far more than a coach, Bernhardt represents a soul mate and an experienced teacher. Benitez's success is his success and Benitez's pain his pain.

Bernhardt signed Benitez when he was only 17. As an 18-year-old, Benitez played for Bernhardt in the Dominican Summer League. Indeed, Bernhardt persuaded Benitez to abandon the outfield to pitch full time. Even after his climb began through the Orioles organization, Benitez would phone Bernhardt to relate his successes and occasional stumbles. Still today, Benitez calls the Dominican Republic two or three times weekly.

Bernhardt played a similar role during last season's stretch drive after Benitez left the disabled list. During the final month of the season, Benitez appeared in 10 games, with a 3.72 ERA and three saves.

"Carlos is one of my favorite coaches. I like having him around," said Johnson, who inquired about having the nonroster coach sit on the bench during games. "I requested him when I knew we were going to have a long homestand. If he could be around, I'd like to have him."

Benitez shares the sentiment. In his past four appearances, he has allowed two hits, two walks and no runs in 4 2/3 innings.

"I can tell him the good and I can tell him the bad. He understands," says Benitez. "He has known me a long time. I can trust him and he trusts me. I like talking to him and he talks to me a lot."

Pub Date: 5/09/97

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