Erickson's quick pitch ripped, 5-3

Devil Rays' 5-run 2nd sends 0-3 starter to another early shower

Miller sneers at `excuses'

Foe with 12.60 ERA blanks O's for first 6

April 21, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Toss another question atop the Orioles' season of riddles: Whatever happened to Scott Erickson?

Erickson's frustrating spring continued last night in another numbing 5-3 loss, this one to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays before 17,660 at Tropicana Field. Before his 1 2/3 innings were done, Erickson had tried everything in his power to defuse a lineup that refused him a breath. But the damage occurred too quickly for the Orioles to avoid tumbling to 3-10.

Two games remain on this road trip's forced march. The Orioles are 1-6 on the odyssey and have lost seven of their past eight to fall 6 1/2 games off the division lead and four games out of fourth place.

Before the game, manager Ray Miller reminded everyone listening that there were 150 games left in the season.

So what's the good news?

That it's down to 149?

The mystery surrounding Erickson (0-3) has grown into a significant concern. General manager Frank Wren huddled with Miller after the game. There were no answers when the doors opened.

"They're up there swinging from their butts. I don't see the good sinker. I don't see the same velocity," Miller said.

Miller remains agitated by Erickson's suggestion that consistently pitching on five days' rest rather than four is a hindrance.

"I know we don't need any excuses," said Miller, who is rapidly losing patience with his starting rotation. "He threw out the excuse last time about the off days. All I can tell you is we didn't play yesterday. He should be strong. He shouldn't be throwing 88 mph when you normally throw in the mid-90s. Whatever his plan was didn't work."

"You go through phases where you're bad or you're not so bad," Erickson said. "Right now, I'm bad. There's no ifs, ands or buts. I need to do something to improve it."

Likewise, Miller sneered at earlier complaints about too few innings during spring training.

"Whatever the stats say about spring training, he did throw 27 or 28 innings counting Cuba, and he would have had 30 if he hadn't gotten knocked out [after four innings] in Atlanta. [Ricky] Bones had 12. He's not pitching so bad and he's pitching every other day," Miller said.

Miller cited Erickson's diminished velocity, his unsure mechanics and questionable approach. Erickson admitted he was more focused on pitch location than overpowering hitters.

"I was trying to make good pitches tonight. I went out [April 14] in New York, felt great, was throwing as hard as I possibly could, and that didn't work so well," Erickson recalled. "Based on one start at home -- in New York they don't have a radar gun -- they say I don't have the same velocity. Everyone has a different opinion, and I don't doubt that because I wasn't pumping the ball like I normally can."

Two days after being stymied by promising rookie Roy Halladay, the Orioles were held by struggling Julio Santana, painted with a 12.60 ERA in his previous two starts. Santana (1-2) allowed only two singles through six innings and gained his first win since last Aug. 27. His previous outing brought an 11-1 loss, the most lopsided defeat in the Devil Rays' two-year history.

Positives could be found for at least a day within the bullpen. Bones relieved Erickson and pitched 4 1/3 shutout innings. Heathcliff Slocumb, Jesse Orosco and work-starved closer Mike Timlin followed with two more. However, Erickson's labored start rendered what followed irrelevant.

At this rate the game's next .400 hitter won't be Tony Gwynn, Nomar Garciaparra, Albert Belle or Frank Thomas. It will be the American League against Erickson. Last night's eight-hit bludgeoning jacked opponents' batting average to .433 against Erickson, who last year led the league in hits allowed but currently only lacks the innings to contend.

"I'm sure it's going to get better before it gets worse. I feel strong. My arm feels great. I just didn't do the job," Erickson said.

During a pre-game team meeting Miller emphasized the importance of first-pitch strikes and pitching down in the zone. Erickson couldn't do either as he needed 61 pitches to get five outs, including 35 in his calamitous second inning.

The Devil Rays tried to jump Erickson in the first inning with one-out singles by Dave Martinez and Jose Canseco. The inning wilted when Mike Bordick ranged far to his left to rob Fred McGriff and former Oriole Danny Clyburn struck out swinging.

The second inning became a labyrinth that spun Erickson with five consecutive hits and six consecutive runners reaching base. A mound visit by catcher Charles Johnson and another, "fairly pointed" visit by Miller hardly changed the inning's momentum after No. 9 hitter Kevin Stocker doubled home the inning's second run.

Erickson induced a double play for his only outs of the inning but the white-hot grounder by Canseco nearly knocked Bordick backward.

McGriff finally chased Erickson with an RBI single to bump the score to 5-0. Erickson has now surrendered 26 hits while securing 37 outs this season.

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