With ace in hole, O's still swinging

KEN ROSENTHAL

July 17, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

The staff ace fell behind 3-0 after four batters. Gave up six runs in six innings. Increased his ERA to 4.34.

Sounds like a fading pitcher on a sixth-place team, but nope, it's just Mike Mussina of the surging Orioles.

"A victim of good hitting" -- that's how the winning pitcher described himself last night after the Orioles' 9-7 victory over Minnesota.

Mussina was smiling, and why not? He figured to struggle after working only 12 1/3 innings the previous 26 days, and his poor outing is hardly cause for concern.

Not the way the Orioles are going.

They're in second place, one-half game behind Toronto. They've won 28 of 39 games, and there are signs they might get even hotter.

Mussina was simply too strong, or too eager, for his own good. But manager Johnny Oates stretched him out to 107 pitches, and Mussina should be back to normal by his next start.

What's truly encouraging is that Mike Devereaux and Cal Ripken are regaining their batting strokes, and David Segui continues to show why the Orioles should attempt to upgrade at third base, not first.

Devereaux went 4-for-4 with a home run, double and a walk last night, and now has 13 RBI in his past 17 games. This is a player, remember, who drove in 107 runs last season. Suddenly, he looks ready to carry the Orioles again.

Ripken, meanwhile, hit a two-out, two-run single to soften the impact of Kent Hrbek's three-run homer off Mussina in the first inning. He's still hitting only .233, but he has 25 RBI in his past 31 games.

The best news of all, however, might be Segui. Granted, he will never be a Fred McGriff, but he delivered the big hit last night, breaking a 6-6 tie in the fifth inning with a two-run homer off Jim Deshaies.

The Orioles entered the inning trailing by two runs, but rallied for an 8-6 lead in a span of 19 pitches. First, Devereaux and Harold Baines hit one-out bases-empty homers. Then, after a walk, Segui knocked out Deshaies by connecting with two outs.

Segui, who turns 27 on Monday, is batting .332 with six homers and 35 RBI. He still might not be the long-term answer at first, but his recent play has forced the Orioles to think twice about loading up a package for McGriff.

The Atlanta Braves, of course, are expected to pry McGriff from San Diego any minute now. If the Orioles are smart, they'll redirect their interest toward a third baseman (Chris Sabo?) or starting pitcher.

Orioles assistant general manager Doug Melvin likes to compare Segui to former Dodgers first baseman Wes Parker, another slick-fielding switch-hitter who once had 111 RBI in a 10-homer season.

A better comparison might be the Chicago Cubs' Mark Grace, who averaged 10 homers and 75 RBI his first four major-league seasons, and was named to the All-Star team this year.

As it turns out, Segui might be a better power hitter than the vTC Orioles projected. His six homers are two fewer than his combined total in Rochester and Baltimore the past three seasons.

No one expected this.

Except maybe Segui.

"If you don't play every day, a lot of so-called experts make evaluations of you -- some say you can't play, and some say maybe you can," Segui said. "But no one ever knows. I think I've got even more to prove to some of these experts. It's a lot of my motivation right now."

Oates, of course, thought Segui could be this year's Brady Anderson, and that's exactly how this is turning out. Segui only began playing regularly in May, but project his numbers over 600 at-bats, and we're talking about 17 homers, 39 doubles and 96 RBI -- your basic monster year.

McGriff? Segui heard the rumors, but said, "That didn't bother me in the least bit. If they got him, they got him. If they didn't, so what?

"If I'm the GM, and somebody like Fred McGriff is out there, I've got to look into it. The guy has hit 30 home runs for five years. They'd be stupid not to look into it."

Then again, maybe they'd be stupid to tinker with Segui. When Devereaux and Ripken are driving in runs, it's a lot easier to stick with a first baseman who doesn't necessarily hit for power.

All teams should have such problems. Right now, the Orioles have three .300 hitters who play regularly -- Segui, Baines and Chris Hoiles. If Anderson can rebound like Devereaux and Ripken, this team will not struggle to score runs. They've batted .286 in their past 33 games, best in the American League.

Last night, they won with their ace struggling.

Is life good, or what?

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