Guzman's spring turns to 8-5 fall

Hot Grapefruit pitcher squeezed for 6 runs in 3 1/3 in O's 1st loss

Down 8-1, Otanez, Clark HR

Rays' 2-run first equals 6-start Guzman spring

April 08, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Will Clark said it. B. J. Surhoff said it. Last night the Camden Yards scoreboard confirmed it.

Spring training is spring training.

They don't put the statistics on your baseball card; they don't listen to the numbers in arbitration.

Juan Guzman received his painful reminder last night in 3 1/3 innings against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The Orioles' best pitcher in the Grapefruit League -- heck, the American League's top pitcher in citrus ball -- allowed as many earned runs in the first inning as he had in six exhibition starts.

On a night when Cal Ripken sat out due to injury for the first time since May 1982, the drawn-out result was an 8-5 loss before 42,284 at Camden Yards. The Orioles managed 13 hits but surrendered 14. They scored the game's final four runs but only brought the tying run to the plate for one at-bat after the first inning. They watched as spring training's best pitcher developed an allergy to April.

"It's too bad this had to be my first game of the season," said Guzman. "I just have to put it behind me as one game. I know I'm a better pitcher than what I did today. Things are going to be better."

Guzman dazzled Florida but against Tampa Bay couldn't locate his fastball, causing him to get ahead of only 11 of 21 batters. Of the 10 he trailed after his first pitch, six reached base.

The natural result, in the words of catcher Charles Johnson, was a "narrow" plate that made last month's unhittable pitcher hittable.

There was little Ripken's presence in the lineup could have done to save last night's loss. Indeed, his stand-in, rookie Willis Otanez, provided the Orioles' their most uplifting moments with his first major-league double and first home run. Afterward, Otanez clutched the home run ball and vowed to send it to his parents in the Dominican Republic.

Guzman, 4-0 with an 0.96 ERA in spring training, was pounded for six earned runs and eight hits while getting 10 outs. After allowing 29 base runners in 28 exhibition innings, Guzman retired consecutive hitters only once last night.

"I didn't have any bad days this spring. It wasn't just the way I pitched. It was the way I felt. It had been a long time since I felt that good," said Guzman, who underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery in September 1997.

Guzman's performance followed Monday's five-inning outing from Mike Mussina and two abbreviated exhibition starts by Scott Erickson and Sidney Ponson last weekend. True, those results don't count, but the innings piled upon the Orioles' bullpen do.

Innings monster Erickson attempts tonight to reverse the trend with an assist from personal catcher Lenny Webster.

Things didn't improve when Guzman left. Right fielder Dave Martinez hit Doug Johns' third pitch for a two-run homer in the fourth to make it 7-1.

Guzman, who endured a 1-4 record and 7.68 ERA last April, was outdone by Devil Rays left-hander Tony Saunders. The Glen Burnie High grad allowed six hits and five walks through five innings that were more effective than stylistic. Saunders' ultimate escape was allowing the Orioles to load the bases with none out in the fifth before escaping via a Surhoff fly ball to shallow center and a 5-4-3 double play from Johnson.

Extending his spring tear, Clark followed Otanez's heroics with a bases-empty homer in the seventh, his first in 57 career at-bats at Camden Yards.

Six innings earlier, Guzman fell behind because of an infield single and a one-out walk. Catcher John Flaherty generated a 2-0 lead by singling to left-center field.

"It wasn't just the first inning. It was the whole game," said Guzman. " If I could have shut it down after the second inning, we would have been in a different situation. Basically, my location wasn't there."

Guzman almost failed to clear the second inning. Left fielder Paul Sorrento singled and scored on Miguel Cairo's triple to center despite pulling a hamstring rounding third base.

No. 9 hitter Kevin Stocker, who enjoyed a rare three-hit night, flared a single to score Cairo for a 4-1 lead. Guzman's inability to hold runners contributed to Stocker's steal of second, which in turn resulted in a fifth run when Martinez (four RBIs) slapped a two-out single.

Rather than wilt, the Orioles came back against the Devil Rays bullpen but couldn't compensate for 11 stranded runners.

Clark mashed three hits. Albert Belle reached base in his first four plate appearances. Otanez enhanced his campaign to remain a part of the club.

Yet Miller was again reminded of how important his reconfigured rotation will be to his team's early success.

Spring training it ain't.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7: 05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Devil Rays' Bobby Witt (7-9, 6.59 in '98) vs. O's Scott Erickson (16-13, 4.01)

Tickets: About 6,500 remain Pub Date: 4/08/99

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