ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - A strong finish by Orioles reliever Mike Trombley last summer has carried over into the first two months of this season. He's getting the same results by not always sticking with the same pitches.
Some nights, Trombley will rely on his splitter. Other nights, he'll go more with his changeup. His fastball has been used more this season to get ahead of hitters and "keep them honest at the plate."
The only pattern with Trombley is there's no real pattern.
"Two weeks ago, I didn't use my splitter much for two or three games," he said. "It depends on the team I'm facing and how it feels. If guys aren't swinging at it, I won't use it much."
Trombley struck out Tampa Bay's Greg Vaughn with a splitter in the eighth inning of Wednesday's victory, after Buddy Groom had surrendered a two-run homer to Fred McGriff that reduced the Orioles' lead to 8-6. Trombley fell behind 2-0, then got Vaughn to swing through a changeup. A fastball evened the count, and the splitter produced the inning's second out.
Trombley pitched the ninth rather than closer Ryan Kohlmeier because manager Mike Hargrove felt the veteran right-hander presented a better matchup against the left-handed hitters on the Devil Rays' bench. Trombley picked up his second save.
With last night's one scoreless inning, he lowered his ERA to 1.88 in 24 innings. He's allowed 14 hits, walked eight and struck out 24. He's held a lead all eight times it's been handed to him, and opponents were batting .173 against him before last night.
His only misstep lately came in Sunday's game against the New York Yankees, when Scott Brosius led off the eighth inning with a home run on a hanging curveball to give the Yankees a 2-1 victory.
Over Trombley's last 23 games in 2000, he allowed five earned runs in 24 1/3 innings for a 1.85 ERA. He shied away from the splitter over the final weeks, but has been using it more this year and leads the club with 17 appearances.
"I'm definitely a feel pitcher, and when I'm throwing a lot I get a better feel for my pitchers," he said. "I guess everybody is a feel pitcher somewhat, but I think a little more for pitchers who throw a lot more breaking stuff."
Kinkade still sitting
Mike Kinkade's sprained right ankle has improved enough that he's not contending with the same soreness anymore, but he remained out of the lineup last night. Jeff Conine started at third base, with Cal Ripken going to the bench despite having seven hits in his past 16 at-bats.
"He probably could play now, but I've tried to pace him through it. He's getting closer to being ready," Hargrove said.
Kinkade suffered the injury while stepping on first base during an April 29 game in Minnesota. He started at third base the next night in Baltimore, the last time he's been used in the field.
"I didn't say anything about it until after batting practice. I thought it had been getting better, but it was pretty sore. I could tell it wasn't 100 percent," he said.
Kinkade's been used twice as the designated hitter in his only starts since the injury. He pinch-hit for Jay Gibbons on Wednesday and was thrown out trying to score from first.
He was batting .385 on April 24, after Hargrove informed Ripken that his playing time would be decreasing so younger players like Kinkade could be evaluated. A 2-for-24 slump going into last night had lowered his average to .241.
Devil Rays release Castilla
The Devil Rays canceled one of their soap operas yesterday when they released disgruntled third baseman Vinny Castilla. They also placed pitcher Mike Judd on the disabled list and sent pitcher Ryan Rupe to Triple-A Durham.
Castilla was benched under former manager Larry Rothschild for a lack of productivity. Hal McRae, who replaced Rothschild, returned Castilla to the starting lineup, but pulled him from Tuesday's game against the Orioles after he failed to advance a runner from second base with no outs.
Castilla repeated his desire to be traded, but the Devil Rays couldn't work out a deal for a player with declining numbers and $7.25 million left on his contract.
"Hopefully a change will do him good. It was best for him to move on," McRae said.
"It was right to release Vinny," general manager Chuck LaMar said. "He felt it and we felt it. It was time to admit the mistake and go down the road."
Castilla, acquired from the Colorado Rockies on Dec. 13, 1999, for pitcher Rolando Arrojo and former Orioles infielder Aaron Ledesma, batted .219 with eight homers and 51 RBIs in 109 games with the Devil Rays.
"Things just didn't work out here," he said.
Judd went on the DL with a sore shoulder after allowing two runs in 1 2/3 innings of Wednesday's loss to the Orioles. Rupe, who already lost his place in the rotation, was sent down after giving up six runs in two-thirds of an inning Wednesday. His ERA has gone from 5.93 to 9.00 since making two appearances out of the bullpen.
The Devil Rays filled the roster openings by calling up right-handers Ariel Prieto, Dan Wheeler and Travis Phelps from Durham.
Around the horn
First baseman David Segui will spend at least two days getting some at-bats at extended spring training in Sarasota, Fla. He could rejoin the team Sunday in New York. Segui remains on the disabled list with a hand injury. ... Sidney Ponson made it through Wednesday's start without a reoccurrence of the elbow pain that put him on the disabled list. He went four innings, and his fastball topped out at 97 mph. "He's a little sore today all over, but not arm soreness," Hargrove said. "It's normal."