O's loss open-shut case

Guzman yields 3 in 1st, six in 3 1/3, as Royals coast to 8-2 victory

He finds spring form elusive

Loss is O's 9th in 11

Ponson's job on line.

April 29, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

So much for Tuesday's momentum. The Orioles instead left Camden Yards last night with mo' misery.

Juan Guzman left the clubhouse holding two tapes, one from last season and another from 1996. Perhaps in his next Blockbuster moment he will rediscover the mechanics that he left behind in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last month when he produced the most compelling spring training of any American League starter. After last night's 8-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals, those days seem eons ago.

Guzman (0-3) lasted only 3 1/3 innings, becoming the latest Orioles starting pitcher unable to reach mid-game. Thanks to a three-run first inning constructed around Guzman's poor location and lapses in concentration, the Royals were able to win without the Orioles ever bringing the tying run to the plate against Jose Rosado (1-1).

The loss was the Orioles' ninth in 11 games and deprived them of their first series victory this season. Now 5-15 heading into tonight's rubber match with the Royals, they continue to search for competent starting pitching.

Usually it involves nothing more than awaiting Mike Mussina's next outing.

Just as the Orioles failed to put together a win streak for the first time in 33 games, Guzman failed to stack consecutive quality starts for the first time since coming to the Orioles last July 31.

In his last start, Guzman provided the Orioles six innings to help break a six-game losing streak. But against the Royals, he relapsed into self-defeating tendencies that have often countered his confounding assortment of heavy pitches.

"I'm not throwing as many strikes as I'm supposed to," Guzman said. "I'm falling behind hitters and I'm pitching up in the strike zone. I need to bring my pitches down. It's something I'm going to work on. It's going to get better. This isn't the way I normally throw."

While manager Ray Miller tries to parse hope from each pitching uptick, reality is hardly encouraging. Besides Mussina, the rotation stands at 0-10.

Starters have pitched into the seventh inning only six times. In eight games they've failed to make it through the fifth. The rotation's 7.18 ERA does not include any pitcher below 5.90.

"Say what you want about the ballclub. It's very tough to overcome those type of numbers," Miller said.

Clueless about what he'll receive from night to night, Miller can not credibly project a turnaround date. There was no food on the manager's office floor or right hands against the wall, just a flat description of another flat start from a staggering rotation.

"I think Moose, Guz and Scotty [Erickson] are three guys you've got to go with," Miller said. "You've got to pitch them every five days. I've got to get them going."

"Our starting pitching, in my mind, is among the best in the league," shortstop Mike Bordick said. "I just expect tomorrow will be a great day, and the next day, and we'll get on a roll. Teams depend on it. I know this team depends on it.

"And I think everybody on this team believes our starting pitching is solid. Something's going to click and everybody's going to get a better feel about everything."

Typically vulnerable against left-handed pitching, the Orioles were stifled by a familiar tormentor. Rosado, now 3-1 against them in seven career appearances, spread five hits over seven innings. His only serious mistake was a two-out walk to Jeff Conine in the fourth inning immediately followed by designated hitter Harold Baines' third home run.

Baines was one of three left-handed hitters Miller sent against Rosado. Baines now has three home runs in 14 career at-bats vs. Rosado.

"I was able to throw my first pitch for a strike. It didn't matter if it was a curveball, fastball, changeup. Everything was for a strike," said Rosado. "And when I do that, it doesn't matter which team it is."

Former Oriole Terry Mathews and Matt Whisenant covered the last two innings. A credible performance by the Orioles bullpen -- two runs (one unearned) in 5 2/3 innings -- was made irrelevant by what preceded it.

The 7-11 Royals nicked Guzman to death during the three-run first. What they couldn't accomplish with four lazy singles they did with two stolen bases, two wild pitches, a walk and a balk. The 30-pitch rally also included a would-be gift out that instead became two extra bases for the Royals.

With Carlos Beltran (4-for-5, three RBIs) at second base and one out, third baseman Joe Randa dumped a hit into shallow left field. When B. J. Surhoff retrieved it, Beltran found himself trapped between second and third base. Surhoff bluffed a throw and ran toward the infield. Beltran finally broke to third, barely beating Surhoff's throw, according to umpire Larry Barnett, while Randa alertly took second behind the play.

Left fielder and Orioles-basher Johnny Damon, a .180 hitter entering the game, beat out the first of two singles to score Beltran for the Royals' first run. Randa scored when Guzman balked.

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