CLEVELAND — CLEVELAND -- There is heightened concern within the Orioles' organization pertaining to left-hander Jimmy Key, whose difficulties have overlapped into the postseason, where he hasn't gotten through the fifth inning in either of his two starts. But pitching coach Ray Miller said Key still is projected to make two starts in the World Series if the Orioles advance past Cleveland in the American League Championship Series.
Key's troubles escalate with runners on base, when his control seems to suffer. He pitched from the stretch to 16 of the 21 batters he faced in Game 2, leaving after four innings with the score tied 2-2.
"[Thursday] night was typical of some of the problems he's been having," said manager Davey Johnson. "He threw 77 pitches, and anybody else probably would have given up five or six runs. He managed to make the pitches when he had to make them. [But] am I concerned about him? Yes."
Enough so that Key won't start another game in this series, Johnson hoping the extended rest will invigorate the left-hander if the Orioles reach the World Series.
"Back when I was a player, if a guy had a problem or struggled a little bit, we'd let him miss a start and generally bring him back," Johnson said. "Now, everybody's got MRIs and every kind of thing. It usually just means that maybe a guy needs a breather. He's made an awful lot of good pitches. But his location is not what it was in probably his first 20, 25 starts."
Key won 11 of his first 12 decisions after signing with the Orioles as a free agent, and his ERA was 2.47 through 14 starts. But in his past 22 starts, including the postseason, his ERA is 4.15.
Indians manager Mike Hargrove said it appeared to him that Key's arm strength was the same as earlier this year, but "his location and command were not as precise. But Jimmy Key, even not at his best, is still very good."
Key set a playoff record by hitting three batters in the first inning. He allowed five hits, walked two and struck out four before being lifted for Scott Kamieniecki, who didn't allow a hit in three innings.
Kamieniecki, who hadn't pitched since Sept. 24 in Toronto, will start Game 5 on Monday in Cleveland. It's a Catch-22 for the right-hander. He preferred starting to working out of the bullpen, but wanted the series to be over before his turn came up.
"If things worked out perfectly, I wouldn't pitch at all," he said. "But I have no problem with it. I'll keep myself ready."
Kamieniecki, who stood to win Game 2 if the Indians hadn't rallied in the eighth against reliever Armando Benitez, was pleased with his command.
"I threw strikes," he said. "I just tried to concentrate on relaxing and not overthrowing the ball."
If the Orioles need to use a reliever early today, the first option probably will be left-hander Arthur Rhodes, who threw in the bullpen in Game 2. It would be his first appearance since Game 3 of the Division Series last Saturday, when he experienced some stiffness in his upper forearm while warming up in the ninth inning.
Media field day in Cleveland
If Key thought the Indians were giving him a hard time in Game 2, he should have seen what some of the local writers had to say about him in yesterday's editions.
Some samplings from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
"Orioles manager Davey Johnson served Jimmy Key to the Indians on a silver platter last night in Camden Yards. The only thing missing was a sprinkle of parsley and a bottle of good wine. The Indians refused to partake of the free meal at the expense of the veteran left-hander. Instead, they took a large bite out of Baltimore's vaunted bullpen "
"Two runs was the least [the Indians] could get out of the first inning. Jimmy Key treated Indians batters like ducks in an arcade, hitting three of them in the inning."
"[Marquis] Grissom gave breath to a series that had all but expired because of the Indians' curious inability to feed on the Baltimore delicacy known as Jimmy Key, a lefty whose arm is cooked pasta."
"[The waste] would have been because they failed to take advantage of Key, who had blown more games in Baltimore this season than the Ravens did in the past two."
Oh yes, the Ravens. Cleveland's former football team even managed to take some hits, like the following:
"The Indians needed this game the way Vinny Testaverde needs rule change that limits NFL Sundays to three quarters."
Davis decision on hold
Eric Davis received his chemotherapy treatment at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center after Game 2 and was scheduled to be in Cleveland around 5 p.m. yesterday. He was allowed to skip the afternoon workout.
Johnson said he'll speak with the outfielder before deciding whether to include him in today's lineup.
"I know he was looking forward to being in there," Johnson said.
Only a bruise for Justice
An MRI performed on the left shoulder of Cleveland's David Justice revealed only a bruised rotator cuff, and Hargrove expects him to play in Game 3.
Justice, acquired from the Atlanta Braves in the blockbuster spring trade that also delivered Game 2 hero Grissom, suffered the injury while diving back to second on a pickoff play. He left for a pinch hitter after seven innings.
"When he dove back into second base, he jammed his shoulder. But the MRI didn't show a tear," Hargrove said.
Justice needed surgery last year to repair a badly separated right shoulder.
Johnson played on the same Orioles teams as past pitching greats like Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar. Asked how Game 3 starter Mike Mussina compares, Johnson said, "He's right up there with them all."
That includes Pat Dobson, who joined Palmer, McNally and Cuellar as 20-game winners in 1971.
"His stuff is as good as any of those guys," Johnson said. "His curveball is probably better, and Dobson had a pretty good curveball. His changeup is probably as good as Cuellar's screwball. His fastball, he locates it in the 90s as good as Palmer did. He's got everything all those great pitchers had."
Great deal of help
Hargrove tried his hardest to be diplomatic yesterday when asked to evaluate the deal with Atlanta, which cost the Indians center fielder Kenny Lofton and reliever Alan Embree.
"I think it was a good trade for both teams," he said. "Obviously, Kenny Lofton was not going to sign back here. Despite all his protestations, I think he pretty much made up his mind. And we got two star-quality players in return."
Grissom was slow to adapt to the American League, hitting .213 through May and eventually being dropped from leadoff to ninth in the order. He finished at .262, while Justice may have cemented the league's Comeback Player of the Year award with .329 average, 33 homers and 101 RBIs.
"We got a lot of leadership out of both of those guys, which this team needed," Hargrove said.
Lofton batted .333 with 27 steals, and Embree went 3-1 with a 2.54 ERA in 66 games.
Orel Hershiser, Cleveland's Game 3 starter, continues to marvel at the fortitude of Grissom, who has played despite such a severe case of the flu that he needed intravenous fluids.
"I'm in the locker room doing some of my workout and this guy's bent over the sink losing his lunch. [Then] he ends up being the hero," Hershiser said.
The right-hander downplayed the chance of today being his last major-league start.
"I haven't even considered that," said the 39-year-old, whose contract expires after the season. "There is speculation that I might retire. I'm not going to retire. There is a very nice opportunity for me to pitch next year and hopefully that will be with the Indians."
Around the horn
The Toronto Blue Jays are expected to ask permission to interview Cleveland hitting coach Charlie Manuel for their vacant managerial position. If so, they'll wait until after the postseason to initiate talks. Orioles hitting coach Rick Down also is believed to be on their list. Pitcher John Smiley, who broke his left arm while warming up in the bullpen before a Sept. 20 start against Kansas City, is expected to be here this weekend. Dr. Lou Keppler, the Indians' orthopedic surgeon, has said it's unlikely that Smiley will need surgery. Hargrove said he wasn't tempted to follow up rookie Jaret Wright's win in Game 5 of the Division Series Monday with a start today. "He went on three days' rest and we wanted to give him as much time to recover as we could," Hargrove said.
Potential pitching matchups for the Orioles-Indians series:
Game 4, at Cleveland, 7: 30 p.m. Sunday
Scott Erickson (*1-0, 0.00)
Cle.: Jaret Wright (8-3, 4.38)
Game 5, at Cleveland, 8: 11 p.m. Monday
S. Kamieniecki (*0-0, 0.00)
Cle.: Chad Ogea (*0-1, 4.50)
Game 6, at Baltimore, 4: 15 p.m. Wed.
Mike Mussina (15-8, 3.20)
Cle.: Charles Nagy (*0-0, 6.35)
Game 7, at Baltimore, 8: 15 p.m. Thurs.
Cle.: Orel Hershiser (14-6, 4.47)
* ALCS stats
Pub Date: 10/11/97