About the first question anyone asked Scott McGregor after he pitched six no-hit innings against the world champions was this: How does it feel to be chopped liver?
Here is a brainy left-hander who won 20 last year. Over the last season and a half, he is 33-12, second only to Steve Stone's 30-8 in the same time. Here is Cy Future pitching without pain for the first spring in three.
"I keep looking for a twinge," he said. "But there hasnht been any. Those two years are behind me now. The main thing is that my arm feels good."
Yet such is the quality and depth of the Orioles' staff, McGregor might not get to pitch until the ninth game of the year, if then.
"Scotty, er, the way things are shaping up, er, it kinda looks like you, er, won't be in their against Boston even," someone said.
"You always the bearer of good news?" McGregor said lightly.
"I was trying to put it diplomatically."
"If you look at the stats in the press guide," said McGregor, an honest-to-goodness team man, "what else can you do but put Dennis Martinez in their against Boston?"
The Orioles open April 10 at home with two games in three days against Kansas City, followed by three days in Boston with a day off before going to Kansas City for three games. A normal four-man rotation -- of Stone, Mike Flanagan, Jim Palmer and Martinez (1-0 against Boston last year, 2.20 ERA in 16 1/3 innings) -- leaves McGregor with no work until the Orioles go to Chicago on April 20.
April is the crulest month for McGregor. He is 2-5 then. The last Aprils, a chronic tender elbow has rendered him practically invisible. Newspapermen pounced on him the other night, after his six innings of invincibility against the Phillies, because the work is proof certain this is a March with a McGregor difference.
Spring training is an inventory of the body amazing. Little Al Bumbry nurses a hip pointer, Kiko Garcia has a bad shoulder, Jim Palmer grouses about an aching back, Rick Dempsey gets a cortisone shot in an aching shoulder.
For McGregor, it was always the elbow. The trouble started in the shoulder each December when he first picked up a baseball after six weeks vacation.
McGregor's throwing action further irritated the elbow. They teach little kid pitchers to step straight toward the plate, the way Tom Seaver does so perfectly. That way, the arms is fully supported by the upper body with everything in balance. McGregor's leading foot lands six inches left of the textbook spot. So instead of having his chest full to the plate, McGregor is turned slightly sideways and must bring his arm across his body.
Even as he won 20 for the first time last season, McGregor was 0-1 in April. The year before, he was 0-2 until June 11 (finishing 13-6).
Predictably, the first diagnoses were tendinitis, the bane of 20-game winners and morning-league bowlers. But doctors last winter told McGregor the problem was in the muscles around the elbow joint, not the tendons. This was a breakthrough because muscles can be strenghtened, where exercise only inflames anxious tendons.
So now I have a set of three different dumbbell exercises I do for the elbow area," McGregor said. "I do curls for the biceps, I turn it out to the side for the triceps, and I do a twisting motion."
Newspapermen made much ado that a 20-game winner might not start a game until the season is eight games old.
Earl Weaver said, "To them, it's a big deal. To me, it's nothing. Scotty might start on opening day and he might not start until Chicago. I'm still trying to form a rotation."
But isn't it a big deal when a 20-game winner is No.5 on a staff?
"We don't have a No. 1 pitcher, a No. 2 and so on," Weaver said. "We've got lots of pitchers. Hell, you guys gotta write something, but we all know what yesterday's newspaper is good for, right? Wrapping up the garbage. Big deal if Scotty ain't pitching against Boston. Look at his stats against Boston. What is he --6.06 ERA? And most of it is that green flaming fence at Fenway. You know that for two years a left-hander never finished a game in Boston? Ray, give him Scotty's stats against Boston."
Weaver's pitching coach, Ray Miller, read from a book of carefully inscribed numbers.
"Last year, he was 1-2 with a 6.86 ERA," Miller said. "Lifetime, he's 2-5 and 6.28."
On the other hand, Weaver said, holding McGregor back to start at Chicago makes wonderful stats sense.
"Against Chicago," Miller said, riffling pages again, "he was 2-0 and 1.65 last year. Lifetime, 5-2 with one shutout, one save and 2.22."
"That's be stupid to miss that one," Weaver said.
So there you have it, from the little genius himself. McGregor either will start Opening Day or he won't. He either will start the ninth game or he won't. It really makes no difference to McGregor, who said, "It's not my fault I won't start, if I don't, but I don't care. I like to pitch, but I'm just as happy to see Dennis pitching well right now. It is a team game, and the better the team does, the better everybody does."
Not that McGregor expects to be forgotten. "I know Earl, and I know the four guys who are pitching the best will be the starters. I'm a competitor and I have enough confidence in myself to think I'll be one of those four. Right now, it's just nice to pitch for a team as good as this one. And it's nice to be able to contribute in April."