ARLINGTON, Texas -- Before he left the clubhouse yesterday, Jeff Robinson learned he could become a small part of Orioles' trivia history.
The righthander and catcher Ernie Whitt made their debuts together and became the 500th and 501st players to perform in the club's 38 years of existence. Unless Whitt, hitting eighth in the lineup, batted in the first inning, it was decided that Robinson would become No. 500 on a technicality, since he would have to throw the ball before Whitt could catch it.
"I hope it's Ernie, because if he bats in the first inning that'll be a good sign," said Robinson, aware that eight hitters would have to produce at least two runs. Whitt didn't quite make it -- he was in the on-deck circle when Joe Orsulak made the final out of the inning.
But Sam Horn's three-run homer in the first had given Robinson the good sign he had hoped for. That it turned out to far less than enough is what this story is all about. Final score: Texas 15, the Orioles 3.
"I know this team is capable of doing that," Robinson said of the Orioles' quick start. "And that's when you have to go out and take control, shut the other team down.
"I didn't do that," he said, obviously upset with his performance: five hits, three walks and five runs in two innings, for a 22.50 earned run average. "I did exactly the same things I did in spring training. I kept getting behind in the count and that's something you just can't go out and do.
"You don't get worried in spring training because you're working on different things. But this is different."
Robinson was effective in only one of his six exhibition games, going 0-3 with a 7.59 ERA. He said a change in approach is responsible for the erratic tendencies he has displayed so far. "I'm getting to the point where I'm trying to be too fine and it's killing me," he said.
"I throw on the side, or before the game, and I feel good. But when I get out there I'm trying too hard to do things and I'm pitching differently. I've always been one to go after people, but now I'm trying too much to finesse the hitters and I can't pitch that way.
"When I throw on the side I realize I've got a pretty good sinker, so I try to use it. But instead of using it when I need to, I'm getting to 2-and-0 and 3-and-1 and these guys know what I'm going to do. I'm going to make them put the ball in play."
When the Rangers put the ball in play against Robinson yesterday, they did so with authority. A three-run home run by Kevin Reimer in the first inning did most of the damage, but Robinson's pitch count told the story of his effort yesterday. He threw 58 pitches and less than half (26) were strikes.
"His problem is he just gets himself into bad counts," said Orioles manager Frank Robinson. "The other guy is just making bad pitches," the manager said of Jose Bautista, who got hammered for nine hits and eight runs in three innings of relief.
Jeff Robinson dismissed any notion that his problems might be caused by a different pitching philosophy here than in Detroit, where he played before he came to the Orioles in the Mickey Tettleton trade.
"No, it's nothing like that at all," he said. "It's my fault. I was doing things different and when I tried to go back to the way I pitch, it wasn't there.
"I felt like I had good stuff, I just couldn't throw strikes. I've just got to put this one behind me and get back to going after the hitters."
Pitching coach Al Jackson still hasn't seen enough of Robinson to detect a change in approach, but obviously agrees with the righthander about what got him in trouble.
"A pitcher who likes to go after hitters has to throw strike one, and he wasn't able to do that," said Jackson.
Perhaps of more immediate concern to the Orioles has been the performance of Bautista, counted on to be the primary long reliever. The righthander has been in three games, been ineffective in all three, and is burdened by a 20.25 ERA.
"It's never too early to be concerned," said Frank Robinson. "You get concerned the first time. Sure, I'm concerned, but there's a big difference between concern and panic."
But with Ben McDonald getting closer to regaining his spot in the starting rotation, Bob Milacki on a temporary assignment to Hagerstown and Joe Price available May 1, it isn't too soon to be contemplating alternatives.
At the moment the middle of the Orioles' pitching staff is puffy from taking too many hits. Only Mike Flanagan, who has five scoreless innings in three games, has given stability to a vital area. Yet the only time the veteran lefthander has been able to contribute to a win was Saturday night, when Bautista struggled while trying to hold an 11-4 lead.
It's one thing to get hammered early, quite another to get hammered often. In two of their three losses the Orioles have gotten it both ways -- early and often.
Yesterday they had a 3-0 lead in the first inning and then were quickly taken out of the game. That's a dangerous trend that can't continue if the Orioles are going to be contenders.