Snoozing offense puts Orioles to sweep Blue Jays finish off series with 3-1 victory

April 13, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

TORONTO -- The Orioles needed just three days to confirm what most of the baseball world already suspected. The Toronto Blue Jays have it all, and they can win even when they do not have everything working for them.

Case in point: a three-game sweep of the Orioles on a weekend when none of the three Toronto starting pitchers was particularly sharp.

Left-hander David Wells was the latest to sneak through the Orioles batting order without incurring serious damage. He worked seven innings and gave up four hits on the way to a 3-1 victory at SkyDome that kept the Blue Jays unbeaten in their first six games of the regular season.

Manager Johnny Oates does not hide his respect for the Blue Jays, but said he was not impressed with the way Wells or any of the three Blue Jays starters handled his struggling lineup, which has averaged 1.7 runs on the way to a 2-4 start.

"In my opinion, their pitching has been very beatable," Oates said. "Friday, we had Jimmy Key on the ropes early, and then he shut us down. [Jack] Morris was struggling, too. Today, that's not nearly as well as I've seen Wells throw the ball. We had our chances. We swung at a lot of balls out of the strike zone, and we make a lot of soft outs."

This is the painful irony of the situation for Oates. The Orioles spent the winter reconstructing the starting rotation, comfortable in the knowledge that the offense had enough punch to make the club competitive. Baltimore starters have a combined 2.84 ERA, and they have worked into the sixth inning in all but one of the club's first six games, but they have fallen victim to an offensive malaise that has gripped almost every member of the starting lineup.

"I just don't think we're swinging the bat very well," Oates said. "We didn't hit the ball hard all weekend, and I don't think it was the pitching. I have seen all three of them [the Toronto starters] a lot sharper. There are going to be times when you don't swing the bat well, and we're not swinging it well now.

"I know it's only six games into the season, but when your first four hitters are batting .170, .180, .100 and zero, you're going to have problems. Hopefully, they won't be there in October, but to have your top four guys with a combined six [actually 10] hits, that's tough."

There was nothing wrong with the performance of the pitching staff yesterday. Right-hander Jose Mesa worked a solid 5 1/3 innings in his first start of 1992. Three relievers combined to give up one run over 2 2/3 innings, but it would be academic once Wells turned the game over to dual stoppers Tom Henke and Duane Ward. It came down to one of baseball's immutable laws -- good pitching usually beats bad hitting.

"I don't have any theories," said first baseman Randy Milligan, who got his first hit of the year in the fourth inning. "Some teams start off like Texas [29 runs in the first three games], and some teams start out like us."

The Orioles have scored 10 total runs in their first six games and no more than three in any one of them.

"We've got a lot of guys struggling at the same time," leadoff hitter Brady Anderson said. "You usually have a few guys swinging the bat, but we've got too many guys who are cold. I can't really explain it."

Mesa pitched effectively, but the 24-inning scoreless streak he carried out of spring training didn't survive his first inning of regular-season competition.

Toronto right fielder Joe Carter greeted him with a two-out shot into the left-field seats to get the Blue Jays on the scoreboard first for the fifth time in their first six games. It was his first home run of the year and only his second RBI, but the formidable Blue Jays offense is averaging five runs anyway.

The Orioles had plenty of base runners again (they left nine on base yesterday, 11 Saturday), but didn't answer Carter's home run until Bill Ripken one-hopped the left-field fence with a leadoff double in the fifth and Cal Ripken brought him home with two-out single.

Wells might not have been particularly sharp, but he didn't have to be. He hit three batters and walked two in his first start of the season, but gave up only four hits over seven innings before yielding to Henke.

Mesa surrendered seven hits and one walk before Oates brought on right-hander Todd Frohwirth with one out and a runner on in the sixth. It was not an overpowering start, but it was another in a series of solid performances that have served notice that the pitching staff is much improved over the 1991 edition. Now, it's just a matter of getting some offensive support before the club gets too far behind the streaking Blue Jays.

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