McElroy's lack of relief has O's concerned

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Friday night struggle takes glow off 5th in row

April 23, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. -- His dinner before him but his appetite largely lost, Mike Hargrove sat behind his office desk late Friday night fielding the predictable questions often lobbed at a losing manager.

Only one thing: Hargrove's Orioles had just won.

In a game that produced decidedly split sensations, the Orioles overcame another traumatic bullpen performance to take a nervous 11-9 decision over the Oakland Athletics. The aftermath offered more relief and concern than celebration as Hargrove and pitching coach Sammy Ellis found themselves faced with the latest ineffective outing by veteran left-handed reliever Chuck McElroy.

"The bottom line is we won the game," said the exasperated manager.

The Orioles -- who improved to 10-5 with their fifth consecutive win Friday - cruised to an 11-3 lead after seven innings. In a tacit show of confidence, Hargrove removed third baseman Cal Ripken (home run, four RBIs) and right fielder Albert Belle from the lineup. But McElroy and Mike Trombley conspired to surrender six runs in the eighth inning and Hargrove had to summon Mike Timlin to pitch the ninth. The save was Timlin's first this season and the 100th of his career but came only after he'd loaded the bases with a pair of one-out walks and a hit batter.

Admittedly distracted by his personal milestone, Timlin completed the rescue by getting Rich Becker on a first-pitch pop out and Miguel Tejada on a fly ball.

"I didn't go out there with the focus I usually have," said Timlin. "It wasn't pretty but it got done."

Meanwhile, concern over McElroy continues to mount. He has pitched defensively in recent outings and Friday appeared uncomfortable on the mound. Hargrove met with McElroy before yesterday's game and emphasized the need for more aggressiveness.

"This isn't me. It's got to stop," said McElroy, who was charged with four hits and five earned runs while getting only one out. "It's embarrassing."

McElroy's outing degenerated after he struck out Matt Stairs leading off the eighth. He then sandwiched four hits around a walk before being removed for Trombley. The performance caused his ERA to swell to 24.00 and left him with at least one walk in each of his five appearances. McElroy has allowed 12 base runners in three innings. In spring training, McElroy had a save and a 3.75 ERA in 11 games while walking just two in 12 innings.

"In watching him, it's a departure from what I remember. It looks like he's pitching not to be hit," Hargrove said of McElroy, whose major-league career with seven clubs dates to 1989.

Hargrove confirmed that for now he can't trust McElroy in close and late situations. Rookie left-hander B. J. Ryan has bypassed him.

"He's pitching to not let them hit the ball. That's not how you pitch," said Hargrove. "You pitch not to let them put the ball on the good part of the bat."

Friday's struggle left the bullpen with 28 earned runs allowed in 24 innings covering the previous nine games. The bullpen entered yesterday having allowed runs in nine of 14 games in which it factored. It has suffered four blown saves in seven chances compared to five during last season's second half.

The longer the situation persists, the more clouded the Orioles' next roster move becomes. Scott Erickson is expected to be activated in time for an April 30 start should he show well in next Tuesday's rehab start at Single-A Frederick. Calvin Maduro, Jose Mercedes, Tim Worrell and McElroy are candidates to leave the team. However, neither Maduro nor Mercedes has options remaining. Vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift insisted yesterday that the club remains patient with McElroy.

Myers cramps in debut

Greg Myers endured an eventful debut with the Orioles yesterday. Having begun the season on the disabled list before waiting five days for his chance, Myers slashed the ball with authority but still appeared protective of his left hamstring before leaving the game with a muscle cramp.

Signed to a two-year contract as backup catcher, Myers lined out to left field and struck out twice before lining a hit down the right-field line. Not blessed with great speed, Myers appeared to stack his steps entering second base. He eased into a slide but was beaten by right fielder Stairs' throw.

"I'm still protecting it a little, I guess," said Myers, who hit .355 with two home runs and five RBIs in 10 spring training games.

Myers' injury history is well-chronicled. He has been on the disabled list nine times during his career and received another scare with two outs in yesterday's ninth inning. As Buddy Groom warmed to face Stairs, Myers' right forearm cramped, causing his hand to draw up and shooting pain into his whitened thumb. Trainer Richie Bancells attempted to rub out the cramp but Hargrove opted to call upon Charles Johnson.

"It felt tight," Myers said. "It wasn't a good position to be in when you couldn't throw the ball. That was a new one on me."

Around the horn

Harold Baines needs one hit to reach 2,800 for his career. ... Ripken, with 3,006 hits, needs one to tie Al Kaline for No. 22 all time.

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