Up-and-down Orioles go to extremes

April 23, 1996|By John Eisenberg

CLEVELAND -- The Orioles' season should start for real any day now.

Eleven wins in the first 13 games? That wasn't real. Or did you expect them to keep playing .846 ball for the rest of the season?

A losing streak that reached five games last night at Jacobs Field and includes the remarkable lost weekend in Texas -- that isn't real, either, as anyone who watched the Rangers' 16-run eighth inning last Friday night can attest.

Is that inning over yet, by the way?

And did you hear the one about the shrewd speculator who got rich investing in the Orioles' team ERA . . . just before last weekend? Talk about instant inflation!

Anyway, as horrifying as this losing streak is (combined score: 59-26), it has provided a clarifying polar opposite to the Orioles' fast start.

They weren't as proficient as that 11-2 record suggested; no team is.

But nor are they as deficient as the past five games suggest.

They're somewhere in between those two extremes, probably closer to the positive indicator than the negative. (If their pitching holds up, which doesn't seem quite the certainty that it did a week ago, huh?)

One of these days they'll get away from these crazy highs and lows and settle into the placid rhythm of which all seasons are made -- win, lose, win or lose, just try to beat the other guys a little more often than they beat you.

In such small fluctuations are winning and losing seasons built over 162 games.

Such will be the case with the Orioles, who have either swept or been swept in three of their first six series. That pace won't continue.

If it does, Pat Gillick and the rest of the front office will require counseling. Baseball isn't meant to be so operatic.

As it was, Gillick felt compelled to convene a personnel meeting here yesterday in the wake of the lost weekend.

The Orioles brought a two-game lead over the Yankees and baseball's third-best record into last night's game, but they were worried.

Call it the curse of the $48 million payroll.

Just a guess, but the small-market Brewers and Royals probably aren't too sympathetic.

Not that there weren't plenty of items for Gillick, manager Davey Johnson and the coaches to discuss, beginning with the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation, currently manned by Kent Mercker and Jimmy Haynes.

The Orioles are 1-5 in games they start and 10-2 otherwise.

Haynes is probably not long for the rotation, or for the major leagues. That's fine. He is 23. There is lots of time to get him straightened out.

It isn't his fault that the Orioles got too excited by the 24 low-pressure innings he threw last September, just as they got too excited by the 10 relief innings Armando Benitiez threw in '94, precipitating their ill-fated attempt to make him the closer last year.

The guess here is the club will bring Arthur Rhodes out of the bullpen to replace Haynes, marking Rhodes' 923rd chance to make it as a starter with the Orioles.

The safer alternative would be to bring up the functional Rick Krivda to start and keep Rhodes in the bullpen, out of which he is finally pitching up to expectations as a long reliever. Why tamper with Rhodes when he is finally producing?

But Rhodes' left-handed talent has tantalized managers and general managers for close to a decade now, so it is no surprise that Gillick and Johnson might want to see what happens if he starts.

Mercker is a bigger problem because the club has invested $2.8 million in him this year and expected him to pitch like a major-leaguer. He has been so awful (27 runners in 15 innings) that Gillick will have to start looking for alternatives soon if things don't improve.

Anyone but Doc Gooden, Pat, please.

Anyway, if you throw in Scott Erickson, who lost last night and hasn't exactly been a horse, the starting rotation is hardly formidable these days. Mussina and Wells and what the . . .

Nor is the bullpen resting on a solid foundation. Opponents are batting .476 against 39-year-old Jesse Orosco. Is this such a shock? And Benitez might be out for a month.

The bullpen is so thin that the club badly needs Alan Mills, who hasn't pitched well since 1993.

At this point, an appropriate motto for the bullpen would be Orosco's memorable words from the eighth inning last Friday night: "I've tried everything. I can't get them out."

Don't misunderstand. The Orioles have a depth problem, but they're still one of baseball's best clubs. They're going to hit, the past five games to the contrary. They have Mussina, Wells, an elite closer in Randy Myers, quality arms in Roger McDowell and Erickson.

No, they aren't the supernova that 11-2 suggested.

But nor are they the high-priced bust of the past five games.

They'll find their appropriate level when they stop rising and falling so dramatically and assume a more normal pattern.

When their season begins for real, in other words.

Pub Date: 4/23/96

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