All month, while the Baltimore Orioles have been hanging around first place, opposing players everywhere have been saying, "If they are playing this well now, what's going to happen when their starting pitching comes around?"
It could be time to find out.
The Orioles' 13-day trip west has been middling in terms of victories and defeats -- they are 5-5 after today's loss to the Angels -- but it has been a big hit for the pitching staff.
The starters, who had only four complete games all season, have completed four games in the last six.
"We knew it was just a matter of time," reliever Tippy Martinez said Friday night, just hours before starter Storm Davis won his first game in a month. "When we were going bad, we kept saying, 'Hey, we know this isn't us.' The earned run averages are still high (4.10 as a team), but they're coming around. The signs are there."
The Orioles got off to a rare good start primarily with home runs (second most in the American League) and decent relief pitching. Only two starting pitchers -- Mike Boddicker (6-2) and Ken Dixon (who won his first three decisions) had much success.
Dennis Martinez was having trouble just getting out of the first inning. Scott McGregor and Davis were struggling so much that they were taken out of the rotation briefly.
McGregor, who had the major leagues' best won-lost percentage in 1979-84, hadn't lasted through the fourth inning in four of his last five starts before Wednesday's game in Oakland. That night, he shut out the A's on three hits for his first victory since April 12.
He had lost four decisions, his ERA had soared to 7.92 and doctors had found two weak spots in his left arm. "I don't want to say I'm through the woods, yet," McGregor said. "When you're going well, you get away from doing all the things that you've been doing."
Dennis Martinez's problems ended, at least temporarily, in Seattle when he held the Mariners to a run on seven hits in a 2-1 victory. Just before that, he had given up five runs on seven hits in an inning in Minnesota. Today, although he lost, he held the Angels to three runs in 6 1/3 innings.
And Davis, who even came out of the bullpen twice, gave up only two hits over the last six innings and beat the Angels, 4-3, Friday night.
"April was a tough month for us," he said today. "There were a lot of peaks and valleys. We're hoping the valleys are over.
"We're trying to do several different things to prevent them from happening. We didn't talk (as a staff) as much when we were struggling. Now, we're following each other around in the dugout, asking one of the other guys, 'What's that batter doing?' "
It has taken more than that, however. Davis, who was overthrowing, and McGregor, who had a slip in his delivery, have corrected those mechanical problems. Dennis Martinez, by his own admission, had to start thinking and not just throwing. And Ray Miller, the Orioles' pitching coach, thinks the trip helped.
"I think it's really helped to get away from home for awhile," he said. "When you're at home, your father's telling you what you're doing wrong, your brother-in-law's telling you, and pretty soon you've got all these little tips, 27 little tips. And it's too much. It's been good to get away from all that and get it simplified."
McGregor's left arm might have been a bit weaker. But his delivery was probably a more significant problem. "Scotty's delivery is across the body, a short step and a flipping release," Miller said. "When he starts throwing conventionally, slinging his leg out, it causes him to push the ball instead of flip it. The change-up is slow, but doesn't dive. And the fast ball gets too far up."
Out here on the road, Miller said he was able to tell McGregor: "Listen to me, slow your leg down, get your foot on the ground and flip." According to both Miller and McGregor, that is not oversimplifying.
Davis may have a 36-21 career record, but at 23, he is still young enough to have prolonged struggles. His ERA had gone over 6.00 and every time a batter got on base, Davis would try to throw harder to the next man. It didn't work.
"For me, it was too big a leg kick," he said. "That was forcing me to overthrow. Two weeks ago, if they'd gotten two hits in a row off me, I'd have been falling off the mound trying to get the next guy out, overthrowing."
He said he also was fooling around with too many breaking pitches. In the eighth inning Friday night against rookie Jack Howell, Davis threw 17 pitches with 12 straight fouled off. All were fast balls, the last of which Howell missed.
"It's an old Jim Palmer philosophy," Davis said. "Go with your best until they get you."
It was a bit ironic that Boddicker and Dixon lost games last week, but pitched well. "You hate to lose those two games, but the pitching has been better," Baltimore Manager Joe Altobelli said. "I was concerned, yes, but not worried."
Neither was Miller. "I've never been that concerned about it," he said. "The history of our pitching is so good. There are two or three periods a year, like hitting, when pitching slackens a bit."
If the pitching is back, it will take a lot of pressure off the Orioles' hitters, who have had to make far too many comebacks at such an early point of the season.
"It means a lot," Tippy Martinez said. "It makes us all more at ease. The hitters were having to do too much, score eight and nine runs all the time. We're really excited. Things are starting to fall in place."