Key goes six in Single-A tuneup Veteran gives up 2 runs; 'surprised it went so well'


FREDERICK -- As he promised, Jimmy Key kept listening to his arm last night, waiting for it to draw the line on his first start since May. Five innings weren't enough, he was told. Go for six.

He got there. Key allowed two bases-empty home runs while throwing 47 of his 70 pitches for strikes in Single-A Frederick's 13-4 victory over Salem before an overflow crowd at Harry Grove Stadium. Though still feeling some discomfort in the arm, Key's expected to be activated next week while the Orioles are on the road, possibly going to the bullpen for a brief time.

With general manager Pat Gillick and assistant GM Kevin Malone in attendance, Key permitted four hits, struck out six and walked two. He needed only seven pitches to get through the first inning, then surrendered homers to outfielder Bryan Warner in the second and catcher Kevin Lidle leading off the third. Being held to roughly 75 pitches, he had 59 through five innings.

"I was surprised it went so well. I pretty much had the ball down all night and my location was pretty good," said Key, appearing in his first Single-A game since rehabbing at Dunedin in 1990.

"My arm still hurts a little bit but not as much. I think I'm going to have to pitch with it the way it is and hopefully it will take me through the rest of the season."

His last start in the majors came May 20 in New York. Four days later, having been battered by the Yankees over 5 2/3 innings, he went on the disabled list with an inflamed left rotator cuff.

Key's return to the mound was a slow and often painful process. Freed by a second cortisone injection to exercise with cuff weights last month, he no longer talked about retirement, the path he would have taken if surgery was needed. He played catch in the outfield, simulated innings in the bullpen, threw batting practice. None of it, however, was a proper substitute for facing live hitters in a game setting.

His rehab start was the first by an Orioles pitcher here since reliever Arthur Rhodes threw six shutout innings on May 16, 1994.

Pub Date: 7/25/98

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