FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Left-hander John Parrish had a bullpen session yesterday that went so well, you would have thought he had just pitched a two-hitter in the playoffs. But the importance of his sideline work seemed to be reaching that point.
Hoping to win a spot in the rotation, Parrish has fallen behind the field of contenders, most notably Jason Johnson and Willis Roberts. The control problems that hounded him as last season wore on resurfaced in Fort Lauderdale. How could he pursue a major-league job while chasing a moving plate?
Parrish has been battling with his fastball and waiting for his curve to arrive. Under the gaze of manager Mike Hargrove, pitching coach Mark Wiley and broadcaster Mike Flanagan, who's in camp as a special instructor, Parrish slowed his pace on the mound and stopped worrying himself to distraction over his mechanics. He also made sure to bring his hands over his head when beginning his windup, rather than holding them tight to his chest.
"I had a great 'pen day," he said. "I threw all fastballs and made a little adjustment. Today was a great movement day. I'm looking forward to getting out there on Sunday."
Pitching in relief on Wednesday, Parrish became the first Oriole to be yanked from a game in the middle of an inning. He lasted 1 1/3 innings, allowing two runs and two hits, and walking three.
Parrish lasted at least 5 1/3 innings in his first five starts after a July 19 call-up from Triple-A Rochester, going 2-1 with a 4.40 ERA. But he went a combined 5 2/3 innings in his final three starts while allowing 16 runs. He walked 19 in his last four starts covering 12 1/3 innings. A habit of falling toward first base and throwing across his body wrecked his accuracy - a problem he addressed in the Arizona Fall League.
"His mechanics are better than they were at the end of the season, but we're seeing a lot of the same results - up in the strike zone, behind a lot of hitters," Hargrove said. "But his mechanics and his idea of pitching, he has a better grasp of those than he did at the end of the season."
Parrish insisted that he's not putting too much pressure on himself to make the club. "I don't worry about that," he said. "I'm way ahead of where I was a year ago. I wasn't even thinking about this point a year ago. I was just glad to be in minor-league camp and playing for a spot in the rotation at Double-A or Triple-A."
Touting the kids
Hargrove advised reporters yesterday to begin paying attention to the "good things" that are happening in camp, especially the young pitchers who are making an impression. It should be easier now that the "Albert Belle Watch" has been called off.
Hargrove singled out Johnson, Roberts, John Bale, Josh Towers and Chad Paronto, five contenders for the starting rotation. Bale and Paronto also are bullpen possibilities.
Roberts rebounded from a poor spring debut to tear through the New York Mets' lineup on Wednesday, striking out three in two hitless innings.
"I haven't seen stuff like that in a long time," Hargrove said. "Here's a guy with a 94-mile-an-hour fastball, just pounding the strike zone, with a nasty split-finger [fastball]. He was making some pretty good hitters look bad."
Johnson hasn't allowed a run in seven innings. Paronto struck out four in two innings Wednesday. Bale pitched three scoreless innings yesterday. Towers, who's scheduled to pitch today, has allowed one run in five innings.
Taking a look
The Orioles still haven't decided whether to sign veteran right-hander Jim Bullinger to a minor-league contract. They're waiting to see him face hitters in a game situation rather than make a judgment based on his side session during Wednesday's tryout.
Bullinger, 35, will pitch at the minor-league complex in Sarasota, Fla., tomorrow starting around 11 a.m.
He hasn't pitched in the majors since appearing in two games with Seattle in 1998 before undergoing ligament-transplant surgery.
Around the horn
THE NUMBER: 1 - Orioles starting pitchers to give up more than one run in an appearance. Marquis Grissom hit a two-run homer off Chuck McElroy in the second inning yesterday. Jose Mercedes (twice) and Towers allowed one run in their starts.
INJURY UPDATE: Pitcher Mark Nussbeck still hasn't been cleared to throw because of tendinitis in his right shoulder. The Orioles keep listing him as being sidelined for "at least two weeks." Hargrove hasn't heard about a timetable for Nussbeck's return. It's likely that one doesn't exist.