The Baltimore Orioles have placed a premium on youth, but in their rush to retool the starting rotation, they are experiencing some predictable growing pains.
Take last night.
Rookie left-hander Arthur Rhodes lasted four innings in his Memorial Stadium debut, giving up six earned runs in a 6-1 loss to the first-place Toronto Blue Jays.
Rhodes struggled with his control again, walking the first three batters of the second inning to hasten his first major-league defeat. He walked four batters in all and watched all four of them come around to score. The four-inning Blue Jays assault featured two run-scoring hits, the biggest a two-out, fourth-inning home run by Devon White that signaled the end of another rocky outing for one of the Orioles most valued pitching prospects.
It was a disappointing evening all around for the Orioles, who slipped to the brink of a three-game sweep. Left fielder Joe Orsulak went hitless in four at-bats, ending his 21-game hitting streak and falling one game short of tying the club record held by Eddie Murray (1984) and Doug DeCinces (1978-79).
Orsulak flied out in the first inning, popped out in the fourth and grounded to second in the sixth to set up a final showdown with Toronto starter Juan Guzman in the eighth. Orsulak fouled off a handful of two-strike pitches before striking out on a fastball up and in.
But that was just the subplot. The Orioles are steering toward the future with a starting rotation that still is a little rough around the edges, and it showed last night.
Manager John Oates was hoping to see a calmer Rhodes than the one who struggled through four innings in his major-league debut against the Texas Rangers, but it didn't turn out that way.
"You look at his track record and see 115 strikeouts and 47 walks in 106 innings, you don't expect him to walk a batter an inning," Oates said.
The expectations have been high since the Orioles pointed their pitching staff toward the future, but the early returns have been mixed. Mike Mussina is 2-3 with a 3.86 ERA. Rhodes is 0-1 with a 10.13 ERA after his first two starts.
He had walked four in four innings at Arlington Stadium and threw a pair of costly wild pitches, but left trailing, 3-2, in a game the Orioles came back to win. This time, he struggled from the start and paid a heavier price for his early wildness.
The Blue Jays scored in the top of the first on a leadoff double by White and an RBI ground-out by Joe Carter. Rhodes self-destructed in the second, walking the first three batters he faced in a three-run inning that left the Orioles in another big early-inning deficit situation. It was the 36th time in 126 games that the club has trailed by three runs or more before the fourth inning.
Rhodes gave up a bases-loaded single to Pat Borders for the first Toronto run of the inning, then regained his composure and retired the next three batters. But two more runs scored on outs to put some distance between the division-leading Blue Jays and any possibility that the Orioles would play spoiler in this series.
A leadoff walk in the fourth also came back to haunt Rhodes when White hit a two-out, two-run homer into the left-field bleachers.
Rhodes did not answer the bell for the fifth. He was replaced by right-hander Anthony Telford, who kept the game from getting completely out of hand.
The Orioles did not put much pressure on Guzman, who retired the first seven batters he faced before Bob Melvin lined a one-out single to right in the third. Mike Devereaux followed with a base hit to right, and Melvin scored when the ball skipped past a diving Carter for an RBI double.
Guzman (5-2) retired six of the next seven batters on the way to his first victory since Aug. 7.
Orioles fans undoubtedly hoped that this series would have some bearing on the American League East race, but this wasn't exactly what they had in mind. The Blue Jays arrived in Baltimore under siege from the Detroit Tigers, but they won for the eighth time in their past 12 games and moved to the brink of a very important series sweep.
The Orioles took two of three from the West-leading Minnesota Twins, but Dave Johnson gave up five runs in the early innings on Monday and Rhodes was charged with six last night.
Orioles in 1990
In the Orioles' 126th game last season, they lost to the Yankees, 4-0. Here's where the Orioles stood:Record.. .. .. .. .. .. Position.. .. .. .. .. GB59-67.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 4.. .. .. .. .. . 10 1/2