Orioles change, from bad to worse 7-0 loss shows new Oriole look,same old miscues

April 27, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- The Orioles continue to spin wildly out of control, but there were a lot of things to be thankful for after last night's 7-0 loss to the once-struggling-but-now-host-to-the-Orioles Chicago White Sox.

Yes, it has reached the small consolation stage. At least it wasn't a another one-run game. At least Frank Thomas didn't kill any Orioles infielders. At least Fernando Valenzuela stretched out to 80 pitches.

Valenzuela didn't stretch it out long enough, however, lasting four innings in his second major-league start of the season. He gave up four runs on six hits to take the loss, but apparently will take the mound again Saturday against Kansas City.

Manager Johnny Oates did everything he could to alter the chemistry of his reeling club yesterday, including holding a nearly two-hour meeting after the game, but nothing seems to help. He shuffled the lineup. He tried to force the action. He has tried every trick in the managerial psychology handbook, yet the Orioles are slipping deeper into the American League East cellar.

It's only April, of course, but even that has become small consolation.

"Sometimes," Oates said, "it gets too late to be early."

The loss dropped the Orioles 7 1/2 games behind the first-place Detroit Tigers, which is farther back than the club was at any point during the 1992 season. Perhaps the five-game gap between the Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays is more relevant, but you get the idea.

White Sox starter Wilson Alvarez pitched eight shutout innings to record his first victory of 1992, yielding seven hits before giving way to reliever Scott Radinsky. Both pitched well, but the opposition long ago ceased to be the issue.

The burning question in spring training was whether Valenzuela could come back after nearly two years on the outskirts of baseball. The question last night was whether he could overcome the collective bad karma that has turned the Orioles into a traveling seminar in crisis management.

He did not have any answers in the early innings, but neither did the rest of his struggling team. The first batter he faced -- White Sox second baseman Joey Cora -- hit a soft two-hopper to second base and Harold Reynolds threw the ball wildly past David Segui at first for an error.

Valenzuela complicated the situation by walking outfielder Mike Huff on four pitches, then threw a full-count pitch to Thomas that ended up in the left-field bleachers. It was Thomas' first home run of the season, but it was his 11th against the Orioles since the start of the 1991 season.

It was the second game in a row in which an Orioles starter gave up three runs in the first inning, but the situation would have been far from hopeless if the Orioles had done anything with a handful of early opportunities.

Alvarez gave up four hits in the first two innings, but was helped at every turn by the Orioles' seemingly chronic inability to run the bases.

Brady Anderson ran into an out at third base on a ground ball to shortstop by Cal Ripken in the first inning. Glenn Davis was thrown out stealing on an abortive hit-and-run play, and Leo Gomez was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a single by Segui in the second. Throw in a routine out at first base, and the Orioles had been thrown out at every base before they had gone through the lineup the first time.

Valenzuela settled down to retire eight of the next 10 batters after Thomas took him deep, but he struggled in the fourth and was replaced by reliever Alan Mills at the start of the fifth. Valenzuela was charged with three earned runs on six hits, which dropped his ERA to 11.05.

"I thought he threw the ball pretty well," Oates said. "He had a decent screwball and a pretty good cutter [cut fastball]. He looked a lot more comfortable out there. Who knows what would have happened if we make that play in the first inning?"

Despite Oates' optimistic words, it was not an impressive outing, but it was an improvement over his 2 1/3 -inning performance against Texas in his previous major-league start.

"I felt good," Valenzuela said. "I thought I threw the ball over the plate a lot better. I thought this was much better than the game in Texas. But I walked that guy on four pitches -- that was a big mistake -- and I got hurt by a couple of pitches. That was the game."

Oates had shuffled the lineup in hopes of producing enough offense to turn things around. He put center fielder Mike Devereaux in the cleanup spot and batted right fielder Luis Mercedes second, but there was no noticeable change in the offensive chemistry of the club.

Mercedes, who earned the vote of confidence with his .400 on-base percentage, did some good things. He laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt in the first inning and worked Alvarez for a walk in the third, but the bottom line remained the same. The Orioles are the lowest-scoring team in the AL, and it shows.

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