SEATTLE -- Right-hander Dave Johnson has to watch from the bullpen now, but the new perspective has not changed his opinion on the sorry state of the Baltimore Orioles.
"We stink," he said, "and I stink the worst of all of us."
So much for mincing words. Johnson is just one of 25 players who reach for their noses when the conversation turns to the way the club has been playing the past fewweeks.
No one is making excuses, probably because the only legitimate one -- the injury that has forced first baseman Glenn Davis onto the disabled list for an indefinite period -- is not enough to explain how a team that was supposed to contend for the American League East title is having enough trouble just staying out of the cellar.
"It's especially tough right now because of the expectations," Johnson said. "I don't know what other people are thinking, but the way I look at it, we should be first, second or third throughout the season and, if things go our way, we win it. But we're not playing well or pitching well. Everything that can go wronghas gone wrong."
The Orioles arrived in Seattle still stinging from a pair of lopsided losses to the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum. They open a three-game series against the Mariners at the Kingdome tonight, butthere is no reason to believe that the competitive balance will improve. The Mariners have won five straight games and 11 of their past 12 at home. They also have played well against the Orioles the past couple of years, going a combined 15-9.
Manager Frank Robinson has tried to shake his team out of its slump. He delivered an angry lecture after Sunday's come-from-ahead loss to the California Angels. He has shuffled the lineup more times than he cares to remember. He has restructured the starting rotation. He has benched slumping Randy Milligan. He has sent Leo Gomez back to the minor leagues. He has pushed all the buttons and pulled out all the stops. There is nothing left to do butwait -- and hope.
"The thing that's puzzling," Robinson said the other day, "is that I think that they are prepared when they go out there, and they feel they can win. But we're not doing the things it takes to win."
That much is obvious. The offense has scored an average of 3.6 runs. The pitching staff has given up an average of 4.73 earned runs. Under the circumstances, the Orioles probably should be thankful they are only seven games under .500 andseven games out of first place.
"The best thing about it is, nobody started off 20-2, so there's still a chance we can right the ship," Johnson said. "We just need people to play up to their capabilities -- not necessarily well, just up to our capabilities. I've been through a funk before, but this is weird. I've never seen so many guys struggling at the same time."
Catcher Ernie Whitt has seen a lot in his 20-year professional career. He was on a 1989 Toronto Blue Jays squad that struggled early and still won the AL East title.
"The main thing is, you've got to keep a positive outlook on everything," he said. "Sometimes, all it takes is one big hit to turn you around and get you on a roll. In this division, if you can stay close, things can turn around in a heartbeat. Put a few wins together, and everyone will forget about the slow start."
The Orioles have won consecutive games only twice this year. The starting rotation has not been consistent enough even to think about an extended winning streak.
The one exception is right-hander Jose Mesa, who has lived up to the club's seemingly inflated preseason expectations. He has given up two runs or fewer in five of his six starts this year but has only three victories to show for his 2.23 ERA.
Take away Mesa's past two starts (in which he gave up one earned run in 16 innings), and the rest of the rotation is a combined 1-6 with an 8.80 ERA since April 28.
Johnson lost his place in the rotation after three straight four-inning starts. Ben McDonald has been hit surprisingly hard since he returned from the disabled list. Jeff Robinson was moved to the bullpen -- albeit temporarily -- after lasting one-third of an inning in his most recent start. Jeff Ballard has been effective more often than not but has lost his past two decisions.
Robinson had hoped that inserting Mike Flanagan into the starting rotation might give the club a lift, but the A's gave Flanagan a solid beating Wednesday, and the Orioles now must get by without one of their most effective relievers for at least tonight.
"You just have to have patience," said closer Gregg Olson, one of the few Orioles who has not lacked for success. "We had a good spring. The guys that were coming in to fill important roles were playing well. You had to like what was going to happen. But it's not over by a long shot. There's too many good pitchers and too many good hitters on this team to write the season off."