GM readies broom as O's swept

Wren `starting to draw conclusions' after Jays fill in O's blank, 6-0

Clark, maybe Ripken, lost

`A month into season you start reacting'

April 19, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- Cal Ripken awoke yesterday almost unable to straighten.

Will Clark took a line drive to his left thumb, fracturing it.

If only the Orioles' losses would have stopped with their 6-0 humbling by the Toronto Blue Jays and rookie pitcher Roy Halladay at SkyDome. Maybe then they could have slipped away, dismissing it as just another forgettable day, another squandered series.

Instead, the momentum behind the Orioles' embarrassing stagger builds, so much so that first-year general manager Frank Wren cryptically warned that changes are pending if the $84 million payroll doesn't quickly reverse course. With Clark headed to the disabled list and Ripken headed to Cleveland for further examination of his screaming lower back, Wren suggested that the time for patience and contrived explanations is coming to a close.

"You don't base anything on one day or two days or three days or a week. I've always felt the first couple weeks is when you start to get a sense. So I'm starting to draw some conclusions, but until we go a little further I'm not going to react to them," Wren said. "When you get a month into the season you start reacting to them."

Wren's unspecified warning leaves the Orioles two weeks to correct a 3-9 start, the worst since the team began the 1988 season 0-21.

Yesterday's three-hit shutout administered by Halladay (2-0) and middle reliever Peter Munro completed the Jays' three-game sweep and left the Orioles with six losses in their last seven games. Given a troubled start by Juan Guzman, they extended the dubious accomplishment of allowing at least six runs in 11 of their first 12 games. The shutout added a twist. Having averaged more than 10 hits per game, the blanking dropped a .285 team average to .271.

"We're not playing well. We're going to have to pitch better, hit better, and catch the ball better," said left fielder B. J. Surhoff, responsible for two of the Orioles' three hits. "That's about as simple as I can make it. Not one game has been up to par."

Yet to win a series or consecutive games, the Orioles pushed only one runner to third base while the Jays jumped Guzman for home runs by second baseman Pat Kelly and right fielder Shawn Green. Kelly was out of the game until signed out of desperation last week by Jays general manager Gord Ash, who has lost two second basemen to the disabled list. Yesterday's home run gave Kelly more total bases than the Orioles' lineup combined.

"We have guys who are proven. We have guys who have done the job before," said Surhoff. "One thing you have to keep in perspective is that we've only played 12 games. That's the good news. I know they haven't been 12 good games. We need to stop it. We need to play better, period."

Guzman (0-2) carried the game only 4 2/3 innings. He fell behind in the first inning before ex-Oriole Willie Greene's one-hopper struck Clark's left thumb, breaking it. He hurt himself further by walking Shannon Stewart and Jose Cruz to begin the third inning, then surrendering a first-pitch, two-run single to Tony Fernandez with first base open. Kelly, released by St. Louis in spring training, and Green reached him for bases-empty home runs in the fifth.

"I tried too hard. I didn't relax like I normally do. We needed to win. We've been losing too many games. I just tried to do too much," Guzman said, saying a lot.

"There's no secret to the problem," said manager Ray Miller. "You hit the leadoff hitter and he scores and the next time you walk the first two guys and they both score. It doesn't take a genius to figure that out. You've got to pitch better. What really bothers me is pitch counts. Everybody's going 3-2 to everybody. [Mike] Fetters gave us a 1-2-3 inning and I wanted to shake his hand. You've got to retire people and give your offense a chance to win."

A future star, Halladay had no such problems in his third major-league start. He prevented Albert Belle from leaving the infield, walked only one and asked his outfield for only four putouts.

The Orioles, meanwhile, carry a 6.55 ERA and a staff "infested" with problems and negativity, according to one pitcher. If there are changes within the roster, that is the likely starting point.

"I really think some of the things that are creating our problems -- and quite frankly creating our losses -- are things that will come around," said Wren, who called speculation about Miller's job security premature last Wednesday. "If our starting pitching goes a little deeper and gives us a chance to set up our bullpen the way we want instead of having to use a lot of guys every day, that's the first thing."

Minus Ripken and Clark, the Orioles pressed on last night. Destination: Tampa Bay and the unknown.

Pub Date: 4/19/99

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