Two weeks ago, it was still time for patience. Now, it appears, is time for change -- and it would be a major upset if the Orioles didn't shuffle some players before the weekend is over.
"I don't know how much longer we can go on [without making some changes]," manager Frank Robinson admitted after last night's 11-6 loss to the Oakland A's. "It could be one game, two games, one week, two weeks or one month. That's the worst question to try to answer right now."
That's what Robinson had to say before a 15-minute, closed-door meeting with general manager Roland Hemond after last night's game. Hemond departed without comment, and Robinson wouldn't elaborate about the conversation.
However, it is very safe to assume the two were not discussing the NBA playoffs, the Stanley Cup, or job security.
It is becoming painfully obvious that the Orioles do not have the right pitching mix. Robinson is trying to juggle six starters, using four in the rotation and two out of place in the bullpen. These are not ideal circumstances for decision-making, but something has to give.
The Orioles have won only one series all year -- the second one of the season, against Texas. In their 20 losses they have been outscored by an average of four runs per game. In 12 of those losses, they have been outscored by an average of more than 5 1/2 runs.
Seven times they have lost by the equivalent of a touchdown or more. Not even Silky Sullivan could overcome some of the deficits the Orioles have helped create.
Through this trying period Robinson repeatedly has said that what he worried about most was getting buried in the standings before the season heated up. They are now nine games behind division-leading Boston, which means if they're not buried the Orioles are at least up to their necks in dirt.
"You don't get buried until it gets into double figures," said Robinson. But that could happen to the Orioles as early as tonight (7:35, Ch. 2), which might be the reason Robinson admits that patience is losing its value as a virtue.
"It was time for patience before," said Robinson. "But I don't know how much longer patience can go on now. When it's April DTC you say 'it's only April,' then when it's May you say 'it's only May.' But we're five [almost six] weeks into the season now and, to me, what you would expect by then is to get better -- to see better results."
After talking with Hemond, Robinson said no moves were imminent, but that most likely only meant within hours. "One game doesn't make you up and do something," he said. "If we were going to do something we would have done it."
But, Robinson also admitted that moving the same people around could hardly be determined as long-range planning. "Each game it's a little bit more you have to come back. A trend can set in -- you start looking for things to happen.
"It gets tougher each day. We have to start seeing some positive signs soon -- real soon. We can't wait too much longer before we have to import new blood in here."
That was the first time that Robinson hinted at possible changes, and as close as he would come to saying they could be imminent. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize the Orioles can't just sit around and wait for their fortunes to change. If this was a stage production working the tryout circuit, the act would never see the lights of Broadway -- and that usually means frantic patch-up work is due.
The numbers offer a strong indictment of the pitching staff as the major culprit, as in last night's 11-6 loss, but that may be an oversimplification. Despite their league leadership in home runs, the Orioles are not burning out any scoreboard lights either.
At various times this young season there have been two major explanations for the overall breakdown. The first contention is that the pitchers would be more effective if they had runs to work with early in the game. The other is that hitters cannot maximize their potential when they constantly have to make up huge deficits.
Both points are valid, but there has to be a starting point. And that is the decision Robinson and Hemond are going to have to make.
Which piece of the machinery has priority when it comes time to repair? Band aids might help both areas, but the Orioles aren't going to cure their ills by changing spare parts.
Trade possibilities are almost nonexistent, but the Orioles might be forced into manufacturing one if for no other reason than to reduce the options of the day-to-day decision-making process.
Ideally the Orioles would like to find five effective starters from among six candidates, but they have yet to establish one consistent performer. Ben McDonald was conceded that role the day he was drafted almost two years ago, but for various reasons he has yet to put a clamp on the top job.
When you don't have an established No. 1 starter, how do you go about filling in the rest of the blanks? That's a question the Orioles would rather not have to answer, but one they may have to come to grips with very soon.
When Mother's Day passed there was only concern. If things haven't improved drastically by Father's Day the Orioles will be staring at a panic situation.
Keep an eye out for the shuffle this weekend.