Bullpen finds relief, even in defeat Call-ups, Erickson combine to give mainstays a break


NEW YORK -- If any good can come from yesterday's seven-run loss to the New York Yankees, the Orioles found it. In their bullpen.

For the second straight day, manager Davey Johnson was able to lay off his relievers, giving some injuries more time to heal and the group a collective breather before the schedule heats to a boil.

The team opens a two-game series in Cleveland tonight, then gets its final day off before playing 20 games in 18 days leading into the playoffs. Included is a Sunday night game against the Yankees that proceeds two straight day-night doubleheaders against Cleveland -- the product of postponements in June.

Back then, the Orioles wondered if they ever would have an uninterrupted stretch of baseball. Now, they embrace Wednesday's break, which will be followed by four home games against New York, like an old friend.

"With the week we have coming up, it's very important we go into those series with the relievers well-rested," bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks said. "You can't expect the starters to go nine innings and you can't expect the bullpen to go in there and take a pounding, either."

Scott Erickson was able to go the distance in Saturday's win, a major accomplishment after the previous night's record-breaking, 4-hour and 22-minute slow dance. And yesterday, after Mike Mussina had to leave prematurely because of a cut finger, call-ups Nerio Rodriguez and Brian Williams ate up the last five innings.

They needed the work, and Johnson happily gave it to them.

"We all welcome a complete game, and somebody who can help us out like Rodriguez and Williams did," said Jesse Orosco, who had pitched in four of the five games preceding Erickson's start. "That one extra day off is nice. Alan Mills needed the day off, for sure. It was good for our bullpen."

It was necessary for left-hander Arthur Rhodes, who isn't expected to pitch until the team returns to Camden Yards because of a strained muscle on his right side. He was going to do some light throwing yesterday but postponed the session until today.

"He was better, but I'll probably stay off him," Johnson said.

Armando Benitez, recovering from back stiffness, warmed up in the eighth inning Saturday, but Johnson would rather wait as long as possible to use him. Shawn Boskie noticed some swelling in his right elbow that night, leaving his status up in the air. Others, like Orosco and Terry Mathews, will be fresher from staying in the bullpen the past two games.

"We're getting healthier," Hendricks said. "Arthur is a few days away and Benitez is close enough that, if you need him, he's ready. You hope you don't need him until after Wednesday."

"The day off [Wednesday] is nice for us," Orosco said. "That's big. We'll have our work cut out for us with a couple of day-night doubleheaders. We get through that, then I think we're OK. It's always grueling for a team that's in contention the last month. That's why those off-seasons are dreams."

So was taking three of four from the Yankees and being able to split the last two games while, as Mathews put it, "staying out of the meat of the bullpen."

"If we play good ball, we could clinch early enough to where we throw who we want, when we want, and everybody gets the proper amount of throwing going into the playoffs," he said. "That's where we have to make a push to continue to play good right now."

Pub Date: 9/08/97

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