The Baltimore Orioles crossed their fingers and recalled pitcher Ben McDonald from Class AAA Rochester yesterday, a move they hope will end the year-long travails of the top draft choice in his tantalizing quest to reach the major leagues for good.
McDonald said he probably would have crossed his fingers too, but resisted for fear he'd aggravate a blister on his pitching hand that is the latest in a series of setbacks since he was selected No. 1 in the June 1989 amateur draft.
"I'm starting to get paranoid," McDonald said from Arlington, Tex., shortly after arriving on an afternoon flight before the Orioles played the Texas Rangers and he worked two perfect relief innings.
"I'll cross anything but my fingers . . . It's been one thing after another. I just hope all my troubles are behind me."
He entered last night with Baltimore down, 6-1, in the sixth inning of the eventual 7-2 defeat. His six outs included one strikeout.
As expected, the Orioles also purchased the contract of first baseman Sam Horn from Rochester, where he was the most recent International League player of the week off a 10-game binge that produced nine home runs and 23 RBI.
Horn accepted an assignment to Rochester a month ago as part of the maneuvering that brought Greg Walker to the Orioles, and he returned a day after Walker declined to accept a demotion and was placed on waivers.
To keep their roster at 25, the Orioles optioned outfielder Donell Nixon to Rochester. With Phil Bradley and Brady Anderson on the disabled list, the moves left Baltimore with only four full-time outfielders: Joe Orsulak, Steve Finley, Mike Devereaux and Brad Komminsk.
Anderson (sprained ankle) is eligible to come off the DL Thursday, but the Orioles might not add an outfielder until after next week's all-star break. Each of the current outfielders can play multiple positions, and infielder Rene Gonzales or catcher Mickey Tettleton could be pressed into emergency duty.
The willingness to make do with an outfielder shortage is a testament to the team's confidence in McDonald's abilities -- or perhaps to a desire simply to have him around.
"Where Ben is concerned, this season has been nothing but frustrating -- frustrating for us and frustrating for Ben," said Doug Melvin, the Orioles' director of player personnel. "In one sense, I guess we got him up here to see if we could end all the frustration."
It began with McDonald's prolonged, often prickly contract negotiations last summer. He signed in mid-August, then made six major league appearances in relief after a September callup. The Orioles originally had hoped for more in the stretch drive from the strapping, 6-foot-7 right-hander who received the highest rating ever given a pitcher by the Major League Scouting Bureau.
McDonald likely had won a spot in this year's starting rotation at spring training before a pulled oblique muscle in his side sent him to the DL, then to Rochester on rehabilitation. With the Red Wings, he was limited by blister problems that Orioles officials have attributed partly to the International League ball, which they say has seams raised higher than the American League version.
The blister reappeared after McDonald's last start at Rochester nine days ago, but a simulated game he pitched Saturday in the bullpen with an AL ball produced no aggravation. So Melvin, General Manager Roland Hemond and President Larry Lucchino determined at a late dinner Monday that to throw major league baseballs, McDonald would have to be in the major leagues.
"It might be kind of silly, but I think it probably was in the back of our minds," Melvin said. "We figured he probably would be here without the blister problems, so why let that keep us from bringing him up?"
Manager Frank Robinson said McDonald will be in the bullpen as the Orioles use a four-man rotation until the all-star break. After that, he said, "I just don't know yet."
In seven Rochester starts, McDonald was 3-3 with a 2.86 earned run average. Perhaps most affected by the blister problems was his control; he walked 21 in 44 innings. His fastball usually was in the 90-mph range but the blister hindered his curveball.
Said McDonald: "I don't care why I'm here. I don't care what I'm going to do. I'm just happy it happened." Special correspondent Dan Noxon in Arlington, Tex., contributed to this report.