Gomez demotion is just latest of Robinson's hands-on moves

May 08, 1991|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Correspondent

OAKLAND, CALF. — OAKLAND, Calif. -- Manager Frank Robinson had said for weeks that he would not sit idly by and watch the Baltimore Orioles fall out of contention in the American League East.

First, he juggled the starting lineup and tried to shake the club out of its season-opening struggles. Sunday, he tried raising his voice in an angry clubhouse lecture on the ugly state of the team. Monday, just as the Orioles were starting to show signs of life at the plate, he presided over the first performance-related roster move of the regular season.

Third baseman Leo Gomez was optioned to the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings and utility player Jeff McKnight was recalled from that club to take his place.

The timing seemed odd. The Orioles had just hammered out four home runs to defeat the California Angels, 7-0, and split the four-game series at Anaheim Stadium. But one strong offensive performance -- especially one that comes at the expense of a struggling rookie pitcher -- does not constitute a team-wide turnaround.

The Gomez demotion came with a number of explanations. He was not getting a great deal of playing time at the major-league level. He was batting .222 and had yet to deliver his first RBI of the season. He is not strong enough defensively to supplant Craig Worthington at third base, and he is too young and promising to be a part-time designated hitter.

The McKnight promotion was based largely on his outstanding offensive performance at Rochester, where he was batting .385 with 17 RBI in 21 games. Robinson noticed when the Orioles visited Rochester on Thursday that McKnight had become a more confident, competent hitter. Now, the Orioles would like to see if he can provide some spark off the bench.

Something had to be done, even though the Orioles entered last night's series opener against the Oakland Athletics with three victories in their past five games. Two of those wins came in games in which the Orioles scored just two runs; the other came Monday night, when Angels rookie Scott Lewis gave up three home runs in four innings.

Right-hander Jose Mesa pitched his first career shutout and the club's first complete game of the season, scattering seven hits in another in a series of strong performances. He has given up two runs or fewer in five of his six starts this year, and his 2.23 ERA ranks him among the top 10 pitchers in the league, but a lack of offensive support has made him a .500 (3-3) pitcher.

There was no power shortage Monday night, however. Worthington and Mike Devereaux homered in a three-run third inning that featured more run support than Mesa had averaged (2.6 runs) in his previous five starts. Tim Hulett and Cal Ripken added home runs in the fifth, Ripken's towering shot to center coming off veteran Floyd Bannister.

The Orioles had not hit four homers in the same game since Aug. 3, when they hit four against the Kansas City Royals at Memorial Stadium. They hit only three home runs in six games at Anaheim Stadium last year.

The closest the Angels got to hitting Mesa hard was a shot off the bat of Wally Joyner in the first inning that hit the Orioles starter on the foot and almost forced him out of the game. But he was still out there three hours later.

Mesa did not walk a batter for the first time this season, and he isn't the only Orioles pitcher who has been throwing a lot of strikes lately. The club entered last night's game on a string of 24 innings without a walk.

"I just tried to go right at them," Mesa said. "Thank God, they hit a lot of ground balls. I got some support tonight, so I felt I had to go out and do my job."

Ripken, who leads the club in homers with six and RBI with 22, also had a single and a sacrifice fly on the way to his 11th multiple-hit game of the year. His 2-for-4 performance raised his batting average to .337, which also is a club high.

The Angels had to be happy to see him leave town. He had seven hits in 18 at-bats during the four-game series, matching his hit total for the entire season series against California in 1990.

Devereaux also wore out his welcome in a hurry. He had eight hits in 16 at-bats, including two home runs and two doubles.

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