While a 100-win season once seemed a near-certainty, Orioles manager Davey Johnson now considers it "just a number."
A game from clinching a wild-card berth and standing on the cusp of the franchise's first division title since 1983, Johnson now says the landmark is of secondary importance to resting position players and aligning his rotation in preparation for the postseason.
Downplaying the feat comes with personal loss for Johnson, who would join Sparky Anderson and Whitey Herzog as the only managers ever to achieve 100 wins in both leagues.
"I'm more concerned with everybody being rested and healthy. That's more important," Johnson said. "If I burned out this ballclub trying to win 100 games, I'd probably hang myself."
With last night's loss, the Orioles need to finish 10-6 to reach 100 wins for the first time since 1980. The mark seemed even more attainable before they tumbled into their recent 7-12 funk.
"I definitely want to win 100 games," he said. "But I'm not going to burn out this ballclub to win them."
Johnson also has never been named his league's Manager of the Year despite leading the New York Mets to a world championship in 1986 and twice to 100 wins. He says he isn't expecting this year's award, instead recommending the Detroit Tigers' Buddy Bell.
"You have good players and you do everything to prepare over the winter, so everybody's who's smart says you have a good chance to win 100 games. Then you win 100 games and there's a guy whose team was supposed to win 80 and wins 85. That's the Manager of the Year," Johnson said.
Johnson has been asked numerous times if he'll manage differently when the division title is sewn up, resting players and giving more time for nagging injuries to heal.
"I do that now. You basically don't change that," he said.
"I've probably been a little more free with that because I want certain guys feeling healthier in the postseason. But basically, you do it just to get guys to a certain point health-wise.
"Every game we play is very important, but I do have that looking-down-the-road mentality."
MVP? Stand in line
Who will be the Orioles' MVP? Johnson isn't able to single out one player.
"Everybody's contributed," he said. "You could make a case for Cal [Ripken], you could make a case for B. J. [Surhoff], [Mike] Bordick, Raffy [Palmeiro], Brady [Anderson]. You could give it to the pitchers. This is the kind of year it probably should be shared."
Johnson added the bullpen to his list, then decided that the best candidate might be pitching coach Ray Miller for his work with the staff.
Rodriguez eager for start
Nerio Rodriguez said he isn't nervous about making his second major-league start in the first game of tomorrow's doubleheader against Cleveland. He hasn't felt any jitters, he said, since his big-league debut in Oakland last Aug. 16, when he pitched 1 2/3 innings in relief.
The Orioles gladly would settle for a repeat of his previous start, when he limited Toronto to one earned run and three hits in six innings in the final game of the 1996 regular season.
"I don't know if the bullpen's going to be tired," he said, referring to the day-night doubleheader today. "I want to at least go six or seven good innings. I'll do the best I can and see what happens."
Miller has helped Rodriguez improve his mechanics since last September, getting him to stop dropping his arm in his delivery. "Now, in the bullpen, I'm throwing pretty good. I'll try to bring that into the game Tuesday," he said.
Rodriguez, 24, has made two relief appearances since being recalled from Triple-A Rochester on Sept. 4, pitching to a 7.50 ERA. He was 11-10 with a 3.90 ERA in 27 starts for the Red Wings.
Two years ago, he was a light-hitting catcher at the low Single-A level before being converted to a pitcher. Now, he sees an opportunity to do more tomorrow than help the Orioles win a game.
"I've been working so hard because I know I have a chance to pitch here," he said. "I've got to continue doing good because I want to be here next year."
Sweep not top priority
Naturally, Johnson would like to see the Orioles sweep both doubleheaders against the Indians, but he has other interests, as well.
"I'm hoping we come through these next two days in pretty good shape," he said. "I'm more concerned about that, and be around Wednesday without having half my club limping. I definitely want to win those games, but I'm not going to bury this ballclub to win them."
First base coach John Stearns has taken plenty of abuse the last couple of days, especially from pitcher Scott Kamieniecki, .. because of Michigan's 27-3 victory over Colorado.
Stearns, who was born in Denver and attended Colorado on a football scholarship, has his locker next to that of Kamieniecki, who played baseball at Michigan.
"It's been bad," Stearns said, "and it's just beginning."
He wasn't kidding. Stearns returned to his locker before batting practice and found a Michigan T-shirt hanging in his locker.
Around the horn
Esteban Yan was in the Orioles' clubhouse yesterday and will be activated to start the first game of today's doubleheader. The Orioles last night had two pickoffs for the second time this season. Johnson said he resisted the temptation to bring back Scott Erickson on shortened rest to start one game of the doubleheaders. Erickson lasted only 2 1/3 innings Friday night, but threw 83 pitches. The time of Saturday's game against the Detroit Tigers at Camden Yards has been changed from 1: 35 p.m. to 1: 15 p.m. to accommodate Fox TV.
Pub Date: 9/15/97