Heathcliff Slocumb stood at his locker yesterday and invited questions about a seven-run ninth inning Thursday night that lasted 48 pitches and turned a bad game into a horror show. Just chalk it up to a poor outing and get back on the mound as quickly as possible, he said, sounding confident the chance would come with the Orioles.
About 30 minutes later, Slocumb was notified by manager Ray Miller of his release.
Slocumb, who signed a one-year, $1.1 million contract in January, became the first casualty of a dreadful season. He appeared in 10 games, allowing 15 hits in 8 2/3 innings and posting a 12.46 ERA.
The Orioles purchased the contract of right-handed reliever Gabe Molina, who hasn't allowed a run in 10 1/3 innings at Triple-A Rochester. He'll report today.
"I felt like I had a bad game last night. Other than that I thought I was throwing fine," Slocumb said. "It's definitely a surprise to me.
"I know the nature of the game and I know there is a lot of pressure on this organization to be successful."
Miller said the organization had been considering the move before Thursday, when Slocumb, 32, was left to absorb a harsh beating from the Kansas City Royals. Paying for the sins of an overused bullpen, he allowed his first two homers among 11 batters faced, including a three-run shot by ninth hitter Tim Spehr.
"One of the toughest things you have to do as a manager is release someone," Miller said. "I made a point to Heathcliff that I wasn't blaming him for everything that's going on here. We've got some young guys going good in the minor leagues and the organization feels it's time to make a statement to the club, `Let's go with some youth and see if they can turn the tide for us.'
"Right now, we're not getting the job done here. Several people aren't. I'm not necessarily singling him out. I just think we need a breath of fresh air."
With the season having grown stagnant, Miller confirmed that yesterday's transaction puts the rest of the clubhouse on notice, as well. "Obviously, you're accountable for your actions," he said. "Everyone is, including me."
Revisiting his final appearance with the club, Slocumb said, "It just snowballed, from bloop hits to ground balls. One thing led to another and I felt like I was just out there throwing instead of pitching.
"The toughest thing is you want to bear down, but it all starts with a bloop hit. I turn around and I'm looking at a cracked bat. That's how those things snowball. Then there were some lazy ground balls through the hole. I'm looking at the guys and they're saying, `Slo, you're doing all right. Just keep on going. Things will turn around.' But it went the other way.
"Next time all I'm going to do is just go in and let it go. When you have a 95-mph fastball, there's only one thing you can do, and that's just let it go. Throw strikes and everything else will take care of itself."
The remaining fans, already frustrated by another defeat, booed loudly as Slocumb was being peppered by the Royals.
"By that time, at this point in my career, you try to block it out, but you're still focusing on the hitters," he said. "You're not worried about the crowd. You're going out there hard and battling."
His next battle will be fought in a different uniform.
"When he's 0-2, he strikes somebody out. When he's 2-0, they get on," Miller said. "I saw a 96-mph strikeout to the first guy and then they had the bases loaded and he's throwing sliders in the dirt. I have a 22-year-old [Sidney Ponson] starting [last night] and Rocky Coppinger [today] and we already used four relievers. I don't think, in a three-run game, it's that tough to ask somebody to finish an inning against the bottom of a not-that-strong lineup."
Amaral gets a start
Rich Amaral made his fourth start last night, but at a new position. Signed mainly as an outfield reserve, Amaral replaced Jeff Conine at first base. He had made two starts in center field and one as the designated hitter.
Conine, who has one hit in his last 16 at-bats, had started all nine games at first since Will Clark fractured his left thumb April 18 in Toronto. He also had started there the previous game while Clark served as DH.
Amaral's last start had been Sunday. He didn't appear in another game until pinch-running for Conine in the eighth inning Thursday night.
"I just want to get [Amaral] in a game, try to get him some at-bats," Miller said. "I also want to give Conine a break. He's working his butt off and nothing is happening for him."
Amaral went hitless in four at-bats to drop his average to .053, but did drive in a run on a groundout.
Pickering on hold
Calvin Pickering's arrival in Baltimore apparently won't come as soon as Miller had anticipated.
Earlier this week Miller had hinted that Pickering could be here by the weekend, but yesterday said the timetable was pushed back as the young slugger recovers from inflammation in his right rotator cuff.
"The consensus is he needs a couple more days," Miller said. "He's not really turning the bat loose. He got a couple hits, but he needs a few more days."
Around the horn
Due to a statistical error, 11 games that Harold Baines played as a DH were omitted from his record, meaning he became the all-time leader in games at the position on April 15 in New York, passing Hal McRae with his 1,429th. Twins rookie Cristian Guzman stole his first base.
Light in darkness
Lost in the Orioles' recent demise has been the steady climb of DH Harold Baines, 40, who has lifted his average from .220 to .300 in the past week.
D ----- Opp --- H/AB --- BB --- RBI --- Avg.
23 ---- Oak --- 2-4 ------- 0 ----- 0 ------- .244
24 ---- Oak --- 1-1 ------- 2 ----- 0 ------- .261
27 ---- KC ----- 1-3 ------- 1 ----- 0 ------- .265
28 ---- KC ----- 2-4 ------- 0 ----- 2 ------- .283
29 ---- KC ----- 2-4 ------- 0 ----- 0 ------- .298
30 ---- Min ---- 1-3 ------- 1 ----- 3 ------- .300
Pub Date: 5/01/99