Ballard is being put on hot seat without cushion

May 16, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

In pitching parlance, Jeff Ballard made some pitches when he had to and got some big outs. There just weren't enough of either.

"It's real frustrating, I'm disappointed right now," the lefthandesaid after the Orioles' 6-3 loss to the Oakland A's last night. "I expected to do better."

One night after Jeff Robinson gave up 10 hits, three walks, buonly one run, Ballard worked through five innings, giving up four hits, three walks and two runs, one unearned.

The lefthander appeared on the verge of duplicating Robinson'performance. However, in the sixth inning, a couple of two-out hits, a double by Lance Blankenship and a single by Vance Law, turned a 2-1 A's lead into a 4-1 bulge.

Ballard (2-5) was gone and so were the Orioles, though thewould finish the night with three home runs and eventually get the tying run to the plate twice in the ninth inning.

After Ballard's departure, Randy Milligan's second homer of thnight and another by Craig Worthington only made the lefthander's sixth-inning experience more painful.

"If I hold them there, we're right back in the game," said Ballardwho has had a pivotal point in each of four straight losses without being able to get over the hump.

"Saying you're not lucky is an easy excuse to make," saiBallard. "I take a lot of the blame myself. Every inning I had to make pitches, but in the sixth inning I didn't do it. I can fault myself there.

"I made some good pitches, but I also made a lot of bad pitches."

Ballard says he feels as good physically as he did in 1989, whehe led the Orioles with 18 wins. He also feels like he's throwing the same -- but without the same results.

"In 1989 everything seemed to work," he said. "Maybe thbounces went right, plays were made that aren't being made now.

"It does wear on your mind. I'm trying to do something positivebut it's not quite enough. There's got to be something else."

The something else, according to manager Frank Robinson, iscoring some runs early in the game. The Orioles had good swings at Bob Welch (4-2) all night, but the only damage they inflicted came on the three home runs. And, after a first-inning run, Ballard and his four successors were pitching from behind.

And that, said Robinson, is the key to Ballard's troubles. "It boildown to scoring runs," said Robinson. "Jeff is not a shutout pitcher. Not that he can't pitch a shutout, but he can go out and keep you in games, not let you get run out.

"But the key is to score some runs for him, give him something twork with so he doesn't have to hold them to one or two runs, so he can give up three or four and still win. And we just haven't done that."

Last night Ballard gave up a first-inning run that could have beeprevented if a Dwight Evans throw from rightfield had been a little more accurate. It was set up by a pair of walks.

In the third inning, a pair of errors by Worthington and Ballarproduced another run. It wasn't until Milligan homered in the fourth and sixth and Worthington also connected that the Orioles got on the board.

"Getting runs early is important for every pitcher, but especiallfor someone like Jeff," said Robinson. Oakland's second run, for instance, scored on a wild pickoff throw that Ballard might have deemed unnecessary if not for a 1-0 deficit.

Lately the Orioles' offense has revolved around the long ballThey've outhomered Oakland 7-0 in this series (they lead the American League with 37), but have scored only nine runs.

"It wasn't that this was a bad night," said Robinson, "but againsa good team, they're going to take advantage of your mistakes.

"Every time you play a good club, you almost have to play perfect game to win," said Robinson.

The fact that the A's managed to manufacture runs withouresorting to their trademark, the home run, is an example of the versatility of the three-time defending American League champions. "They hit-and-run, bunt, move guys over in key situations," said Ballard. "They don't just sit back and rely on home runs. That's what makes them so difficult."

A hit-and-run created a run for the A's in the seventh inning anLaw's bunt single on a squeeze play added another in the eighth. Those runs were as much a product of operating with a lead as anything else.

Keeping the A's from taking the ball out of the park usually is good start in controlling the league's most powerful and versatile offense. But last night the A's played Punch-and-Judy ball to overpower the home run-hitting Orioles.

Of the Orioles' last 26 homers, all but one has come with thbases empty, a statistic that draws more attention that Robinson considers valid.

"If we weren't hitting home runs, you guys would write abouthat. So, we hit homers with no one on base and you harp about that instead. One thing about home runs is that they put runs on the board -- and if we keep hitting them out, there will be some men on base."

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