Oriole pennant pitch is lacking a hitter or two

April 13, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

BOSTON -- Headed into the Boston Red Sox's opening game here at Fenway Park today (1:05 p.m.), Orioles manager John Oates won't concede the point, but after one week of the season the club has left an impression that its makeover isn't complete.

The patchwork job done on the pitching staff over the winter is holding up fine, but the lineup still needs another bona fide hitter. That would appear to be the case even when Glenn Davis is in the lineup, which he isn't at the moment.

If the point needed reinforcement it came in Toronto yesterday when the Blue Jays completed a three-game sweep over the Orioles with a 3-1 win. Lefthander David Wells, surviving with fly ball outs, went seven innings for the win, allowing only four hits in the process.

Going into the game, the Orioles had a team batting average of .354 against Wells (23-for-65), but not even that encouraging note was enough to get them out of a severe hitting drought. In six games the Orioles have scored only 10 runs, they are hitting .198 as a team and have scored as many as three runs only once (a 4-3 loss to Toronto Friday).

In the 52 innings in which they have come to bat, the Orioles have scored in only seven.

"We're not getting many opportunities," said hitting coach Greg Biagini, "and when we do, we're not doing a good job of situational hitting. Right now, we're not being very selective, and swinging at a lot of balls out of the strike zone."

That was clearly evident in the fourth inning yesterday, when the Orioles let slip away the best opportunity they had all day. With runners on first and third and nobody out, Mike Devereaux hit a soft fly to second baseman Roberto Alomar in short rightfield on a 2-and-0 pitch and Leo Gomez flied to Joe Carter in shallow rightfield.

Then, after David Segui walked to load the bases, Chris Hoiles flied out to Candy Maldonado in deep leftfield.

"In my opinion, all three of their starting pitchers in this series were beatable," said Oates. "We had [Jimmy] Key on the ropes early in the first game, Jack [Morris] struggled all day in the second game and I've seen Wells throw a lot better than he did today [yesterday]."

Oates also has seen the Orioles hit a lot better than they have in every game they've played so far. The lineup right now, with so many hitters struggling, doesn't look very imposing.

"It takes on a different look without the big boy [Davis] in there," said Oates. "But not too many teams can lose their No. 4 hitter and not have a different look."

One of those teams, however, might be Toronto. "We have to try and piece everything together -- get people who have had success against certain pitchers in the right spots, and get our best defensive players on the field at the same time, especially on artificial surface," said Oates. "Sometimes you can't play all of your best hitters.

"But that team over there [the Blue Jays], they just put out the same lineup every day."

So far the Blue Jays lineup has been perfect, rolling to a 6-0 record in the first week. Meanwhile, the Orioles (2-4), because of Davis' strained rib-cage muscle, already have used three different No. 4 hitters.

Devereaux, who has been freed from the leadoff spot, has the club's only two home runs -- but he's not an ideal No. 5 hitter, the spot he's currently occupying in the lineup. Even with Davis in the lineup (he's expected to return this week), the Orioles could use another bat.

In two of the last three games, the Orioles have lost to vulnerable lefthanded pitchers, something that didn't figure to happen when the season started. And they'll face two more lefthanders (Frank Viola and Joe Hesketh) in the series that started today in Boston.

"We're only six games into the season," cautioned Oates. "If you looked at the averages of our first four hitters going into the game [yesterday] -- [Brady] Anderson was hitting a buck-something [.176], [Joe] Orsulak a buck-something [.188], Rip [Cal Ripken] a buck [.105] and [Randy] Milligan wasn't hitting anything [.077].

"It takes time, but I don't think it'll stay like that. Right now it's a struggle. In the first two innings [yesterday], as I recall, five of the six outs were on pitches out of the strike zone. I really think we got ourselves out more than they did. I don't think they pitched that good today."

Conversely, the Orioles didn't pitch bad -- just not good enough to win. Jose Mesa, who was unscored on during spring training, gave up a solo home run to Joe Carter in the first inning, and another run in the fifth before leaving in the sixth.

"I'll tell you something," said Oates in summarizing what he's seen during the first week of the season. "I don't like losing -- but if we're losing 3-1, if we keep pitching like this, we're going to win some games.

"But when you're losing 7-2 all the time, that's when it's going to be a long year. We're not going to keep [not] hitting like this.

"We're going to score some runs. And if we keep pitching, we'll be OK."

Going into spring training, this wasn't the way it was supposed to be for the Orioles. Everything was geared for pitching to be the key to whatever success they might enjoy.

So far that formula hasn't held up. After six games, the team earned run average is 2.79. Only once (Saturday's 7-2 loss) have the Orioles been taken out of a game early.

It's the rest of the equation that hasn't worked -- the part that rationalizes the Orioles can win if the pitching gives the offense a chance to perform.

Oates still believes that to be the case, but a re-evaluation could very well turn up the need for an additional hitter to make it all work.

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