MINNEAPOLIS F — MINNEAPOLIS -- It started with high hopes. Three wins in four games in Boston. The rejuvenation of what had been a beleaguered pitching staff. Timely, if not overpowering, hitting. Renewed confidence that they could compete against good teams, strong pitching and win on the road.
But when the road trip ended, the Orioles literally limped home, their wings clipped by three straight one-run losses.
Last night's 4-3 defeat to the Twins might not have been as close as the score sounded, but it did help reinforce the belief that the Orioles are not playing with a full deck.
Everywhere manager John Oates looks he finds an injured player, and the strain of playing with a short bench and a patched-up lineup is taking its toll.
Craig Worthington is physically ready to come off the disabled list, and he may do so today. Competitively he can be expected to bring two weeks worth of rust with him, so Oates would like to at least consider a brief rehabilitation assignment.
Complicating the situation is the fact the Orioles have two players, Bill Ripken and Jeff McKnight, who could be candidates to replace Worthington on the disabled list, which is already crowded with five names.
Oates is scheduled to meet with general manager Roland Hemond this afternoon and, after consulting with team doctors, the Orioles will try to sort out the pieces. It's possible that one or more players could be summoned from Rochester, even if only for a limited time.
"I don't want to make a move and then say it was the wrong move," said Oates. "But the way we're swinging the bats right now we can't afford to play two people short, even for a short period."
In that regard Oates is undecided about the proper move to make with Worthington. "I'd like to at least consider asking him to go out and get eight, 10 or 12 at-bats," said Oates. "He hasn't faced live pitching in 16 days.
"But we're not going to do anything until after our doctors have had a chance to look at these guys. Billy would've gone in to play second base last night if we had tied the game, but I really didn't want to put him back on that [artificial] carpet.
"Right now neither he nor McKnight can play [both are listed as day-to-day]. Maybe we'll have to go short one more day, but if they tell us either one or both should be out a few more days, then we'll have to do something."
When he was asked if either Ripken or McKnight would go on the disabled list, Oates deferred an answer until today. "I can't answer that tonight," he said last night. "It's hypothetical and both of them might be ready to play.
"They're going to see the doctors and we'll address the situation after we get a report from them."
In Worthington's absence Tim Hulett has played every day at third base and Juan Bell has spelled Ripken at second. Playing without two regulars in the infield is difficult under the best of circumstances, but it is magnified when a team is struggling as much as the Orioles to score runs.
"If we were hitting better it wouldn't matter as much, because we wouldn't have to pinch-hit or pinch-run," said Oates.
Hulett is hitting only .213, but has shown some power with five home runs. Bell is struggling offensively and defensively. The switch-hitting rookie's average dipped to .114 (5-for-44) last night and he still does not appear comfortable at second base. His inability to handle a high bouncer off the bat of Chili Davis was a key play in the Twins' two-run sixth inning last night.
The coaching staff has worked hard with Bell, the lone player remaining from the Eddie Murray trade. But the more they try to get him to relax, the more he appears to press, which only compounds his, and the club's, problems.
The fact that the Orioles are playing with a makeshift lineup that often includes either David Segui or McKnight in the outfield only makes it more difficult for Bell.
The optimism of three days ago, following the series win in Boston, was dimmed considerably by the Twins, who have won five in a row and eight of their last nine. Oates has remained upbeat through it all, citing the positive side of the improved pitching, and says his players have not lost their enthusiasm.
"I wish you could have been in our dugout in the ninth inning," said Oates. "I can see it [enthusiasm] and I can hear. The players are giving the effort, but it's the same old story -- we're not hitting with men on base.
"We continue to see some positive things -- we just have to get somebody besides Cal [Ripken] hitting. You can't ask for any more than the pitching staff has been giving us.
"We just have to hang in there with our pitching and defense until we start to hit," said Oates.
It's a lot to ask for, and too much to expect with a limited cast. It's gotten to the point where the Orioles can't afford to have anybody out, even for a few days, without putting them on the disabled list.
The Orioles will make a move of some sort with Worthington today, but that might not be enough. At the moment, they simply do not have enough workable parts.