MIAMI, FEB. 28 -- Mark Thurmond began shaking hands with another new set of teammates this week when the Baltimore Orioles became his third club in less than two years.
He would not have predicted it, not in 1984 when he was 14-8 and had a 2.97 ERA for the National League champion San Diego Padres. He would not have predicted a 7-11 record in 1985 or what was to follow: a trade to Detroit in mid-1986 and his emergence as the Tigers' best reliever.
He certainly wouldn't have predicted what happened in 1987, a season when he not only was unable to crack the American League's best starting rotation but didn't even get much relief work, thanks to the emergence of baseball's best rookie reliever, Mike Henneman.
Now comes another trade, a swap to the Orioles for veteran third baseman Ray Knight.
"I couldn't be happier," Thurmond said. "It was no shock because I'd asked to be moved and I had heard as far back as the winter meetings that Baltimore was interested. I knew what my role was going to be in Detroit this year, and I wasn't going to like it. That starting rotation is so good, there are just no openings, and with them pitching into the seventh or eighth inning every night a couple of relievers aren't going to get much work. I'd never seen a staff as good as that one."
Thurmond estimates that he was up in the bullpen "250 to 300" times last season without getting into a game. "Mentally, it gets to be a drag," he said. "I probably threw more than any other pitcher on the staff."
Thurmond has gone from one of the best pitching staffs in the game to one of the worst. From a team with a staff that virtually was set months before spring training, he has landed with one that has 22 pitchers in camp. More than half of them are competing for the five starting spots.
At the moment, Thurmond, 31, fits in as the only left-handed reliever, someone to be used strictly against left-handed hitters. But he's a control-finesse pitcher and his best success has come as a starter.
Regardless, Thurmond, a proven pitcher with 616 career innings and a 3.58 ERA, fits prominently somewhere, which is more than the Tigers could offer. He prefers to start and told Manager Cal Ripken Sr. as much when they met today.
However, he also said he'd do whatever was asked of him. Near the end of last season, he was bitter and depressed, but apparently only Frank Tanana, his closest friend, knew.
"He'll do what's asked of him," Tigers Manager Sparky Anderson said. "I never heard one negative word from him."
Still, he wants to get a crack at being a starter.
"I'm not a strikeout pitcher," he said. "I'm a ground-ball pitcher. As a reliever you come into a situation where the bases are loaded and no one out. Even if you get a double-play ball, a run is going to score. You need a strikeout in that situation, and that's not me.
"But if I'm going to be a reliever, I'll do it. I don't mind. I was Detroit's best reliever in the second half of '86 and I was also a spot starter. The important thing is that we win. I played on a winner in 1984 and another one last year, and that's the name of the game."
He holds a degree in finance from Texas A&M and was a Southwest Conference star there in the mid-1970s. He now makes his home in the Houston suburb of Katy and spends some of his winters working out with two-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, who also lives there.
The Padres twice selected him in the draft. The first time was in 1978, but he chose to return to school. The Padres tried again after his senior year, and he spent three years in Class AA before getting a shot at AAA Hawaii.
It was after a 3-8 first half that his career turned around. He was experimenting in the bullpen one night and found, oddly, that if he threw the ball easier its movement was greater.
He then began changing speeds in games and found that it kept hitters off balance. He went 9-2 the rest of the year and was in the majors a year later.
"I had trouble believing they couldn't hit it," he said. "They were so intent on hitting the fastball that something at a different speed completely threw them off balance."
He was on his way, going 21-11 in '83 and '84, but is only 14-20 since. He says part of it is because of the erratic way he was used last season. He believes a change of scenery will make a difference.
"I have a lot of confidence in myself," he said, "and I think I'll get the ball enough here to show it."
Several Orioles are nursing minor injuries, the oddest of which belongs to outfielder Jim Dwyer. He suffered severe discomfort today when he did some exercises while sitting in a nest of fire ants . . . Reliever Don Aase threw 10 minutes of batting practice today and probably will pitch in one of this week's three intrasquad games . . . Center fielder Ken Gerhart still is bothered by a sore right ankle and might begin the exhibition season in left field to save him a few steps.