Jays bash Erickson, sweep, 7-2

In second start, he yields 7 runs, 12 hits in just 2 2/3 innings

O's end road trip 1-5

'We didn't make pitches whole series'

May 11, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO - The oftwhispered hope was that Scott Erickson's return from March surgery would give the Orioles one of the league's elite starting rotations. And it may still happen. But as the Orioles trudged home from last night's 7-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, an ordinary rotation would represent significant improvement.

The Blue Jays completed a suspense-free three-game sweep and extended their three-year dominance of the Orioles by raking Erickson for seven earned runs and 12 hits before he could get his ninth out.

Falling below .500 (16-17) for the first time since Opening Day, the Orioles have lost seven of their last eight and 13 of 19 on the road this season. At least last night's game provided a respite from an infuriating trend that had them suffer five of their previous six losses by one or two runs. Both wins since April 29 have come on ninth-inning rallies.

Last night's loss was also the Orioles' 13th consecutive to Toronto and their 14th straight in SkyDome.

Once more, the Blue Jays offered the Orioles little opening. The Orioles led for one inning during the sweep and were outscored 19-11. After falling behind last night, 7-1, they looked listless for the last seven innings.

"Scotty just didn't have it tonight. Everything they hit, hard or soft, was where we couldn't get to it. They hit a lot of balls hard," manager Mike Hargrove acknowledged. "By the time we got anybody up and ready, they had scored five or six runs."

Still admittedly rusty, Erickson (0-1) suffered from too little movement on his heavy sinker. Seven of nine hitters he faced in the third inning singled, an eighth walked.

The Blue Jays, meanwhile, entered the series with their pitching staff in total disarray. Left-hander Lance Painter was imported from the bullpen to make last night's start in place of Roy Halladay. He responded by striking out a career-high eight in five innings, allowing only two hits.

Erickson has yet to answer questions about his arm strength following a two-month rehabilitation from arthroscopic elbow surgery. While Hargrove noted Erickson's first pitch hit 93 mph and he repeatedly cleared 90, other club-house observers interpreted Erickson's willingness to use a changeup, a pitch he has traditionally detested, as an indication that he has yet to regain confidence in his power assortment.

"It's his second outing since September," Hargrove said. "I think we run Scotty out there expecting him to do very well, but we shouldn't be surprised it's not what our expectations are because it is early.

Erickson has never fed expectations about his return. His perspective comes from last year when he was 1-6 at the same juncture before rallying for a 15-win season. He consistently down-played optimism engendered by rehab starts at Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie.

"I didn't expect anything. That's why during the whole [re-hab] process I didn't want to talk about any of it," he said. "It doesn't matter what you do in A-ball or Double-A. It's not close to what you do at the major-league level."

His health at least was fine. "That was the best I've felt in a long time," Erickson said.

Without a credible performance by a starting pitcher, the series underscored the folly of momentum. Sunday's ninth-inning resurrection against the Yankees was the O's most inspired win of the year, but it could not overcome the subpar starting pitching seen during the latest SkyDome fiasco. Johnson, Mike Mussina and Erickson surrendered 18 earned runs in 13 2/3 innings. None managed consecutive scoreless innings.

"You don't have to be perfect to get them out. But you've got to make pitches to get them out. And we didn't make the pitches the whole series to get them out," said Hargrove.

Albert Belle gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead with his fourth home run in the second inning. Erickson held it for only four pitches before Tony Batista homered.

As for conclusions, Hargrove chose not to draw any.

"This game is a game of cycles. Right now, we're in a bit of a down-turn. The trick is to make it last shorter than our good cycles. We're in the process of doing that. And the only way you can do that is go out there every day expecting to win. It doesn't do any good to sit around and mope and moan about a lack of this or a lack of that. It all comes down to a team effort. We've all got to go out and do our jobs.

"If we do that and we have the talent, we'll do OK. And I believe we do."

The Orioles enter a significant four-game series 'against Boston with Jason Johnson striving to accelerate his pace and Mussina searching for a comfort zone for his fastball. The Orioles' current rotation includes three wins from Red Sox exile Pat Rapp and a combined three for Johnson, Mussina, Erickson and Sidney Ponson.

For those seeking silver linings, the bullpen averted a total break-down with 5 1/3 scoreless innings, including 10 outs from Chuck McE1-roy. But this was a salvage operation instead of something meaningful, and Orioles relievers remain more effective when pitching behind than in save situations.

"I'm looking for positives, not negativity," said McElroy, who dropped his ERA from 13.50 to 9.53 with the outing. "I've felt a lot of support from the other guys out there, and it's helped."

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