A month before the first days of spring training, everything seems possible. The Baltimore Orioles believe -- they hope, anyway -- all the pitchers who let them down so badly in 1985 will come back in 1986. It's a lot to hope for, but in the dead of winter a hot stove can heat the imagination.
"You're going to need pitching -- pitching is 90 percent of the game," said Florida-tanned Earl Weaver before tonight's Tops in Sports banquet at which Mickey Mantle, 1985 American League MVP Don Mattingly of the New York Yankees and a number of former and current baseball stars were honored. "Pitching is our prime concern."
Yet the Orioles, perhaps with little choice, plan to stick with the same starters who failed to distinguish themselves last season: Mike Boddicker (12-17, 4.07 earned run average), Scott McGregor (14-14, 4.81), Storm Davis (10-8, 4.53) and Mike Flanagan (4-5, 5.13). Then there's Dennis Martinez (13-11, 5.15) and reliever Tippy Martinez (3-3, 5.40, four saves).
"It's virtually impossible to go out and make a trade for a starting pitcher of any caliber," said Orioles General Manager Hank Peters. "But we're not basing our hopes for comebacks on people who haven't done it before, or on pitchers who have bad arms, or who have reached an advanced age.
"And we like Bordi as a pitcher." Rich Bordi (6-8, 3.21), a 6-foot-7 right-hander obtained from the Yankees, will replace Sammy Stewart, who was traded to Boston.
Peters insisted the starters, not the relief pitchers ("overall, the bullpen did all right"), caused most of the Orioles' troubles last year, a season in which Baltimore finished at 83-78 and in fourth place in the American League East, 16 games behind division-winning Toronto. Tippy Martinez, who will be 36 in May, still is one more question mark. Right-handed short reliever Don Aase finished strong last year (10-6, 3.78, 14 saves), as Peters said, after "Earl got here and used Aase the way Aase was meant to be used."
Weaver had as many questions as answers: "Can Boddicker regain his control? Can McGregor slip that chest-high fast ball by the hitters? Flanagan (much of whose 1985 season was wrecked by a torn Achilles tendon) will be healthy from the start . . . "
Neither Peters nor Weaver was saying it, but Dennis Martinez ("the ERA certainly wasn't what it was supposed to be," said Weaver) could yet be involved in a trade as Peters searches for two commodities to round out his modest winter shopping list: one more right-handed hitter and another catcher.
As of today, Weaver envisions Rick Dempsey behind the plate and Floyd Rayford at third base and, overall, "probably as powerful a ball club as I've brought to spring training since 1969-'70-'71," the days of Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell.