CHICAGO -- The Orioles can expect to have their patience tested tonight (8:35, HTS).
Knuckleballer Charlie Hough (0-0, 4.50) will make his first start for the Chicago White Sox in the final game of the series. His opponent will be Jeff Ballard (0-1, 6.00), making his third start of the season.
The key to success against Hough has always been the ability to play the waiting game. Overly aggressive hitters have a tendency to get themselves into trouble against a pitch as unpredictable as the knuckleball.
In the past the Orioles have had success against Hough, beating him 11 times in 17 decisions. But as often as not the offensive ineffectiveness of the Texas Rangers, his former team, and his own wildness had as much to do with it as anything.
Orioles hitting coach Tom McCraw's philosophy of batters waiting on the pitch gets severely tested against knuckleballers like Hough. An early indication of how the Orioles might fare will be whether Hough is able to get ahead of the hitters. When he does he's difficult to beat. When he doesn't, he's vulnerable.
On the other hand, Ballard rarely has to worry about wildness. The lefthander's only control worries center on his location within the strike zone. When he keeps the ball on the fringes he's usually in command. When he doesn't, then he becomes vulnerable.
A good indicator for Ballard is how many ground balls are hit early. He's generally most effective when he keeps the ball out of the air, which he didn't do in a 9-1 loss to the White Sox on Opening Day.
With 12 runs in 18 innings, Ballard's ERA is the second highest on the team to Ben McDonald (6 runs in 4 2/3 innings for a 11.57 ERA).