Oates left wondering as runs keep pouring in against Orioles

March 13, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

VIERA, Fla. -- At the current pace, the final spots on the Orioles' pitching staff will be determined by default. That is not exactly what manager Johnny Oates and pitching coach Dick Bosman had in mind at the start of spring training.

"I hope that's not the case," said Bosman. "But so far nobody has seized the moment."

The Orioles lost for the fourth time on a three-day trip here yesterday, dropping a 5-4 verdict to the Florida Marlins. Their exhibition record is 2-8, but the won-lost ledger isn't even the primary concern.

"It isn't the wins and losses," said Oates. "I don't care about that. It's how many runs we're giving up."

In that regard, yesterday's game was an improvement for the Orioles, who have given up 7.2 runs per game. But once again, ineffective relief pitching produced another blown lead.

Barry Manuel, given a good chance of winning a spot on the staff earlier this spring, might have moved a step closer to self-elimination by giving up runs in the eighth and ninth innings. The right-hander allowed three hits and walked one while working the last 1 1/3 innings.

The Orioles' most effective pitcher of the day was the one working at less than 100 percent. Veteran Mark Williamson, trying to regain a spot on the roster, pitched two scoreless innings despite a slight muscle pull in his left buttocks.

"We told him he should do that all the time," said Oates. "He didn't try to overthrow the ball."

Williamson agreed that his mild discomfort might have worked in his favor. "It definitely kept me within myself," he said. "All things considered, I thought I threw the ball well.

"I didn't try to overthrow at all -- except when I reached back on one pitch. After that I backed off a little bit."

The result was two scoreless innings, during which Williamson gave up a couple of scratch hits and one walk. He didn't mesmerize anyone, but he has now allowed only one run in six innings (a 1.50 ERA), easily the best of the relievers in camp.

Most disturbing about the Orioles' start to Oates is that the pitching staff's ineffectiveness has been generally widespread.

"I don't care if it's spring training or not," he said, "you can't win when you're giving up seven runs a game. And nobody has been immune. I keep waiting, and waiting and waiting. I'm not going to say I'm disappointed, but we just can't keep pitching this way.

"You can win giving up five runs, but it seems like we're in trouble every single inning. We don't have too many back-to-back shutout innings -- by anybody. It [ineffectiveness] has been across the board.

"And we're not even facing major-league lineups yet. What's going to happen later when we start seeing them [regular players] every day?"

By then Oates can only hope that his starters will be stretched out enough and his relievers advanced enough to make a difference.

"We'll expect to be doing a whole lot better," he said. "If we were giving up three runs a game we'd be about 8-2 instead of 2-8. We're scoring enough runs, but the 1927 Yankees couldn't have won giving up 7.2 runs per game."

Ben McDonald made his second start of the spring and found himself behind 2-0 after facing three batters. Then he quickly settled down, allowing only one more hit and striking out four in the first three innings.

"I felt like I could throw the ball through a wall," said McDonald. "I felt too strong, which is good in a way for this time of year. But I was trying to overthrow everything to the first few hitters and it messed me up.

"Once I started mixing in some breaking balls and changeups I was OK. It was just a matter of feeling too good and trying to throw too hard to those first few hitters."

The Marlins didn't score again until the seventh inning. By then the Orioles had built a 4-2 lead on a two-run double by Cal Ripken, a bases-empty home run by Lonnie Smith and an RBI single by Mark McLemore.

But Brian DuBois, after getting through the sixth inning, allowed a run in the seventh and the Marlins pushed across a run in the eighth and ninth against Manuel, leaving the Orioles on the short end again.

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