All news bad news for troubled relievers

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Stats authority tacks 4 blown saves to total

Erickson slower, better

July 02, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- The news continues to worsen for the Orioles' bullpen. On the same day it surrendered a 6-3 lead to the Toronto Blue Jays, the team's relievers picked up four additional blown saves before even throwing a pitch, according to the organization recognized as the authority on bullpen statistics.

Figures for the Rolaids Relief Man Award have the Orioles with 17 blown saves through June, four more than the club's records revealed. The discrepancy is due to the hazy definition of a blown save, an unofficial statistic in the eyes of Major League Baseball and its official record-keeper, Elias Sports Bureau.

While team officials were led to believe a staff could be charged with only one blown save per game, Rolaids charges a blown save for every dropped lead involving a bullpen.

For example, both Mike Timlin and Jesse Orosco were credited with blown saves Wednesday when the Blue Jays rallied from late-inning deficits of 7-6 and 9-7.

Under the club's definition -- endorsed but not recognized by Elias -- only Orosco would have been charged, as he was the final reliever to lose a lead.

Given yesterday's 18th blown save, the Orioles are well on pace to break the major-league record of 31 set by the 1998 St. Louis Cardinals. (Rolaids has counted blown saves since 1988.) At their current rate, the Orioles would drop 38 save opportunities. The Kansas City Royals have blown 17 saves.

Rolaids lists closer Timlin as the major-league leader with eight blown saves. Conversely, the Anaheim Angels' Troy Percival (22 of 23), the New York Yankees' Mariano Rivera (20 of 21) and the New York Mets' John Franco (19 of 20) enjoy at least a 95 percent success rate. Eight relievers entered yesterday at 90 percent or better.

Erickson improvement

He didn't get a win for his work, but starting pitcher Scott Erickson showed noticeably improved movement and location yesterday after a bullpen session with pitching coach Bruce Kison and Home Team Sports broadcaster Mike Flanagan.

"It was a little better," said Erickson, who allowed three earned runs in 6 1/3 innings to lower his ERA from 6.66 to 6.51. "Like I said after the New York game [June 25], it wasn't pretty, but I felt I made some progress in that game. I was trying to build on it."

Based on a detailed review of his mechanics from last season, when he won 16 games and led the American League in innings pitched, Erickson used a slower, less-forced delivery.

From the windup, he slowly raised his arms overhead, paused, then powered toward the plate. He walked four and struck out four, an unimpressive ratio, but was able to induce the sinker missing for most of this season.

As the Orioles roughed up Blue Jays starting pitcher Joey Hamilton, Erickson was again having fun throwing his heavy ball. The Blue Jays scratched for only one hit through five innings, pounding nine ground-ball outs. By the time they put a runner into scoring position, the Orioles led 6-0.

"I still threw over 100 [119] pitches in six innings, which isn't very good location. I need to throw more strikes. I got a 6-0 lead and only went six innings. That's not enough."

This season has tortured Erickson (3-8). His inconsistent mechanics, quickened by a desire to limit stolen bases, have often betrayed him.

Even after making adjustments to improve his leg drive and winning back-to-back starts on June 9 and 14, he never shook the tendency to rush himself. By accelerating his delivery, he took the sink from his fastball. Regular beatings followed.

Last season, Flanagan photographed Erickson's delivery at intervals of 0.1 of a second. The rapid-fire sequence was printed on an unbroken string of 5-by-7 glossies. Part of Erickson's recovery has been a lesson in photo appreciation.

Another first

Rookie second baseman Jerry Hairston completed an eye-opening series by hitting his first major-league home run yesterday.

On a full count, Hairston yanked a Hamilton fastball into the Blue Jays' bullpen to give the Orioles a 4-0 lead. The blast came in Hairston's seventh major-league start, two days after he enjoyed a four-hit game.

"I know the kind of ability I have," Hairston said. "What I need to do is show it at this level."

Hairston's breakout was diminished somewhat by the Jays' three-game sweep.

"This team has All-Star players and Hall of Fame players," he said. "It's hard to accept losing like this. There's an incredible amount of talent on this team. What you want most of all is to contribute to a win. That didn't happen."

Around the horn

Being Canada Day, the Blue Jays did not wear their names on the backs of their uniforms. Instead, every uniform bore "Canada" on the back. The Orioles are considering promoting backup catcher Lenny Webster from his rehab assignment at Rochester before next week's three-game homestand against the Jays. The urgency may have increased yesterday when Charles Johnson took a foul ball off his right instep. He finished the game in pain. Johnson has played in 49 of the last 52 games. Harold Baines' three RBIs gave him 1,537 for his career, tying him with Joe DiMaggio for 33rd on the all-time list. Cal Ripken was given the day off as the team played an afternoon game after a night game and was on artificial turf for a third consecutive day. Jeff Reboulet started at third base. The Orioles announced that last weekend's Orioles Wives food drive raised $9,230 and 12,186 pounds of food for the Maryland Food Bank.

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