Uneasy lies the head that has to figure out what's wrong with the Baltimore Orioles.
Manager Frank Robinson admitted last night that he has been having trouble sleeping of late, which should come as no surprise to anyone who saw the way the Seattle Mariners battered the Orioles, 10-1, in the opener of a three-game series at Memorial Stadium.
The Orioles were supposed to be much improved this season, but they got off to a rough start and the situation has been deteriorating ever since. The loss last night was the eighth in their past 11 games. The slump has touched every corner of the clubhouse.
"It's hard to go to sleep at night because you keep thinking, is there something I have overlooked or something I can do," said Robinson. "It's not a case of just wondering why they aren't playing well. This is when they need me, too."
Right-hander Dave Johnson probably didn't sleep well last night, either, after giving up six runs over four-plus innings on the way to his third loss in four starts. He has failed to get the first out of the fifth inning three times in a row, which leaves room to wonder whether his place in the starting rotation is secure.
"I can't worry about that," he said. "Everybody goes through rough times, and this is the worst thing I've been through here, not being able to go out there and give them six or seven innings. But I'm not going out there thinking my job is in jeopardy, though it very well could be."
It almost certainly would be if the rest of the rotation were performing well and the club were scoring runs and the problems facing the team could be traced to a few obvious areas. But there is nothing in particular that can be blamed for pulling the Orioles to the bottom of the American League East standings in such a hurry.
"One starting pitcher would not be the answer to our problems," Robinson said. "If four guys were going great, we wouldn't be in the situation we're in. We haven't been through the rotation one time with what I'd call good pitching, even with a three-man rotation.
"I can be patient [with Johnson]. I can be patient with everyone. I'm a patient man. I've learned to be through the years I managed the Cleveland Indians and the San Francisco Giants and this club. I think it's very important to show a certain amount of patience. But don't think I'm just going to sit here while we continue to lose ballgames. We can't sit here and say that we'll wait it out."
The problem is figuring out what to do when the club is firing on so few cylinders.
"We're in trouble right now," Robinson added, "but I can't say it's a lost cause. Look at the people we have. These are talented people. We're just not playing up to our capabilities."
Johnson has run into trouble in the early innings in each of his past three starts, which explains the 8.79 ERA he carried into last night's game. Things got worse before they got better, thanks to a four-run second that left the Orioles playing catch-up for the fourth game in a row.
Mariners third baseman Edgar Martinez opened the second with an infield single and Pete O'Brien followed with a base hit to right before Alvin Davis flirted with a three-run home run. His long fly ball was caught by Dwight Evans at the wall, but Greg Briley and Omar Vizquel followed with back-to-back RBI singles. Harold Reynolds made it a four-run lead with a two-out, two-run single.
Designated hitter Sam Horn got the Orioles on the scoreboard in the bottom of the second with his third home run of the year, but that would be no more than a minor diversion. It was important to Horn, who has had trouble making contact lately, but the overall effect was less than cosmetic.
The streaking Mariners -- who lost their first six games, won their next eight and lost their last five -- turned things around again at the expense of the Orioles starter who needed a victory the most.
Johnson was coming off a game against the Chicago White Sox in which he gave up a pair of two-run homers in the early innings and went on to surrender nine runs (eight earned) in four-plus innings. Six days earlier, he gave up six runs on eight hits in four-plus innings against the Milwaukee Brewers.
This four-inning thing is becoming a habit with him. He gave up singles to the Ken Griffey father-and-son team to open the fifth and was not long for the game, leaving after the elder Griffey scored from third on a passed ball.
Left-hander Paul Kilgus came on to allow Griffey Jr. to work his way home on a ground ball and a sacrifice fly, leaving Johnson with a third straight four-inning appearance in which he had given up at least six runs.
It is not known how this will affect the club's pitching plans. Right-hander Bob Milacki just turned in an outstanding performance in long relief on Sunday, but the coaching staff was preaching patience with Johnson before the game.
"Johnson is Johnson," pitching coach Al Jackson said. "You evaluate him when the season is over. You don't evaluate him game-by-game."