Erickson and Bonilla spell it out: there is an I in 'team'

April 28, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

Scott Erickson doesn't like the defense.

Bobby Bonilla doesn't like being a DH.

The Orioles can't beat Texas, but they sure can point fingers.

One for all, all for one, rah, rah, rah.

The defense isn't good enough for Erickson? Fine, let him go back to Minnesota. Back to the Metrodome. Back to Pat Meares at shortstop.

Bonilla can't hit as a DH? Well, he's not the first slugger to experience that problem, but it's not as if he approached this experiment with an open mind.

Pat Riley diagnosed the problem that afflicts not just the Orioles, but professional athletes in all sports.

It's called "the disease of me."

The defense is a big reason Erickson went 9-4 after coming over from the Twins last season. The defense is a big reason the Orioles risked a two-year, $6 million contract on a pitcher with a 5.12 ERA the past three seasons.

So here's Erickson yesterday, crowing, "I could easily be 4-0 if our defense played good." He has a point -- the defense wasn't good in yesterday's 4-2 loss to Texas. But how many times this season will he be rescued by his fielders?

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you -- the entire logic behind Erickson's fat contract is that he's a sinkerball pitcher playing on a grass surface with a strong infield behind him.

Did the hitters rip the pitchers when they were giving up a zillion runs a game during the club's six-game losing streak?

Did anyone rip Erickson when he gave up five straight hits to Kansas City and needed a five-run comeback in the eighth to escape with a no-decision in his first start?

The Orioles have lost eight of their past 10 games, with their only two victories coming against that Triple-A franchise masquerading as the Royals.

They don't need Erickson's self-serving soliloquies, just as they don't need Bonilla forcing his way back to the outfield because he can't adjust to DH.

Orioles manager Davey Johnson said it himself: "It doesn't matter whether you're a DH or not the DH, it shouldn't be a problem with a veteran player when he goes up there to hit."

But it was a problem when the Orioles were 11-2, so, naturally it's a problem when they're 13-10.

And you thought this was a team game.

Bonilla, making only his fifth start in right, had two hard-hit balls go over his head yesterday for extra-base hits. Maybe another outfielder catches those balls, maybe not. Over the long haul, it's not terribly important.

What's important is this: The Orioles' defense is best with Bonilla at DH. But if he's struggling in that role, then Johnson has no choice but to return him to the outfield in an effort to maximize his production.

Bonilla, after all, is his cleanup hitter.

The problem is, Bonilla's failure as a DH was practically a self-fulfilling prophecy. He said he disliked the role even before the season started.

No wonder he slumped.

"At this level, if you think mentally you can't deal with it, you're defeating yourself," Johnson said.

Bonilla hasn't dealt with it -- he's batting only .211. So now the Orioles are weaker in the outfield, where the defense was such a springboard to their success in 1989 and '92.

Brady Anderson is solid in center, Jeffrey Hammonds is improving in left, but it's no secret that both Mike Devereaux and Tony Tarasco are preferable to Bonilla in right.

Why not use Devereaux and Tarasco as late-inning replacements? Because then Johnson would lose his cleanup hitter. Indeed, that was one reason he wanted Bonilla at DH in the first place.

Take it from Erickson -- defense is important. Just look at the Rangers yesterday. Not only did they avoid giving away outs, they made at least four sparkling plays.

The Orioles?

Their ERA is 5.05.

Their pitchers need all the help they can get.

It's funny, but the two biggest defensive questions entering the season were third baseman B. J. Surhoff and catcher Chris Hoiles. Surhoff has been outstanding. Hoiles has not been a significant detriment.

However, Rafael Palmeiro is playing below his usual standard at first -- he made his fourth error yesterday, matching his total from last season, and giving the Rangers a two-out lift in their decisive three-run eighth inning.

And the outfield play, while mostly good, certainly would benefit from the addition of another player who could catch the ball -- and, no, we're not talking about Luis Polonia.

Right now, the Orioles look like any struggling team, with balls dropping in when the outfielders play deep, and balls going over their heads when they play shallow.

"We started off really jelling, then everything got discombobulated," Johnson said. "We'll find a normal [pattern] here in a minute."

Got that, Scott?

Got that, Bobby?

It sure would be nice if everyone pulled as one.

Pub Date: 4/28/96

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