NEW YORK -- Rick Sutcliffe wishes it were a simple matter of turning to the next page of the calendar. If it were, he could just forget about his winless July and move on to the string of hot August nights that figure to define his comeback season.
But there is nothing simple about it, not when you're 36 years old and you haven't won in your last six starts and your record has dropped below .500 for the first time all year. That is the situation that faced Sutcliffe after yesterday's 6-3 loss to the New York Yankees.
"It has been a horrible month," he said, "but changing the month isn't going to turn things around."
Sutcliffe will check out of July with an 0-5 record and a 5.85 ERA. He gave up three runs in the first inning yesterday and six runs (five earned) on eight hits over a 4 1/3 -inning performance that dropped his overall record to 10-11. The Orioles won the series, but Sutcliffe lost another battle with himself.
"Any time you struggle it's discouraging," Sutcliffe said. "It's even worse when your team is in a position to make a move and every game is important. It's just one of those things where sometimes you try too hard."
The Yankees sent eight batters to the plate in the first inning. Dion James led off with a double. Mel Hall and Roberto Kelly delivered RBI singles. The third run of the inning scored on a rare throwing error by Cal Ripken. It was his eighth error of the season.
Sutcliffe hung around until the fifth, when the Yankees scored three more runs at his expense. Then he went back to the Orioles clubhouse to figure out what went wrong this time. He thinks he knows, but he doesn't know exactly what to do about it.
"The last three or four starts, the only pitch I've been able to get over the plate is the fastball," he said. "At this point in my career, I need to use all my pitches and I've kind of lost confidence in my changeup and my breaking ball.
"You go through times when your velocity is better than others. When I was 26, I went through periods like this and you get through them by getting your off-speed pitches over. I needed a good changeup and breaking ball, but I kept getting behind with them. Eventually, you've got to throw a strike and my fastball was not one of my better fastballs."
Manager Johnny Oates agreed, and he wondered aloud whether the time might be right to cut down on Sutcliffe's workload. He is, after all, coming off two years of shoulder problems, and he leads American League pitchers with 24 starts.
"It has gone through my mind that he has pitched a lot of innings this year," Oates said. "I don't know if we should monitor his pitches or skip a start. I know he would fight that, but he's not 25 anymore. I can't expect him to pitch as many innings in the second half as he did in the first half."
That sounds logical, but it's not as if the Orioles are deep in starting pitching. They will have to scramble to fill two spots in the starting rotation this weekend in Boston. Right-hander Richie Lewis is expected to be activated to start the second game of today's day-night doubleheader at Fenway Park. Reliever Alan Mills is tentatively scheduled to move into the rotation to start tomorrow's game against the Red Sox.
The club might not have the luxury of sitting Sutcliffe down, even for one start.
If his recent struggles have been a source of frustration for the manager, Oates isn't letting on. Sutcliffe still is tied for the club lead in victories and has absorbed a lot of innings that otherwise might have taxed the bullpen.
"What did we expect of him when we got him?" Oates said. "We wanted him to give us some innings, keep us in some ballgames and provide some leadership -- and that is exactly what he's doing."
Still, much has changed in a relatively short time. When Sutcliffe recorded his 10th victory June 30, he was on a 22-victory pace and he was a lock to be the league's Comeback Player of the Year. He has been waiting for his 150th career victory ever since.
There were a couple of games he could have won, including a 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins in his next start. There was one game he should have won, ending up with a no-decision when he and the bullpen blew a 7-2 lead to the Chicago White Sox. He hasn't been consistently bad. He just hasn't been able to win.
The Orioles didn't exactly rush to his side yesterday. They managed just four hits off Yankees starter Curt Young through eight innings, scoring only on a bases-empty home run by third baseman Leo Gomez in the seventh.
There was a last-ditch attempt to get back into the game in the ninth, after former Oriole John Habyan came on in relief. He gave up consecutive singles to Cal Ripken, Glenn Davis and Randy Milligan to open the inning before getting Gomez to hit into a double play.