'Pen presses forward to stop high-run tide

Pitchers look forward, not back, to find relief

May 18, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Orioles right-hander Mike Timlin took the mound Tuesday night and threw the ball as if there were no tomorrow, then insisted that the better course of action would be to act as if there were no yesterdays.

The veteran closer retired the Anaheim Angels in order in the ninth inning to protect a one-run lead and help end a seven-game losing streak in the opener of a two-game series at Edison International Field. The 4-3 victory didn't wipe away all the frustration of an extended bullpen breakdown, but it allowed Timlin and his beleaguered fellow relievers - for one night, at least - to look forward instead of back.

"This one was a little more important because we've lost a few in a row," Timlin said, "but those are over. That's something you can't do anything about. That's the way we approach it."

What choice do they have? Orioles officials have reveled in the solid performance of veteran middleman Buddy Groom, who took over for Scott Erickson and pitched a scoreless eighth inning to set up Timlin's third save, but there have been precious few highlights from the rest of the bullpen.

Every other member of the Orioles' relief corps arrived in Anaheim with an ERA that started with at least a five. Through Tuesday's game, the combined ERA of the entire bullpen is 6.86, and Orioles relievers have surrendered an average of two earned runs a game through the first 38 games.

Right-hander Mike Trombley, the club's most heralded off-season pitching acquisition, has struggled so badly that manager Mike Hargrove found himself playing defense attorney when somebody asked about his supposed top setup man before Tuesday's night's game.

"Mike Trombley is a good major-league pitcher and he will be again," Hargrove said. "This is the first time in his life he hasn't been a Minnesota Twin. He's trying to impress a new city, new fans, new manager and new teammates. Sometimes, it takes time."

The Orioles appeared to be running out of time when Groom took the mound (in a situation that used to belong to Trombley) with a slim lead on Tuesday night. They were reeling from a deflating 1-9 performance against the three teams ahead of them in the American League East. They had blown nine save chances, a number significant enough to make the difference between a solid winning record and their current sub-.500 status.

But there was reason to hope on Tuesday night that the bleak pitching situation might be ready to change.

Erickson, making his third start since returning from elbow surgery, looked more like his old self than he had in either of his first two appearances. He struggled in the middle innings - in part because of some sloppy defensive play behind him - but recovered to pitch seven strong innings on the way to his long-delayed first victory of the season.

"When you have a performance like Scott put together tonight, it shows what he's made of," Timlin said. "He's got great stuff. He started out really well, hit a rough spot in the middle of the game, then cranked it back up. He got aggressive again and made the right adjustments."

Erickson needed a little positive reinforcement. He gave up five runs over six innings in his 2000 debut against the Yankees on May 5, then got knocked around for seven runs and 12 hits in just 2 2/3 innings against the Blue Jays his last time out.

"I straightened everything out in the bullpen the other day," Erickson said afterward. "I felt pretty good starting the game. I got into a little bit of a jam in the [fourth inning] ... got a little out of whack ... but I knew what I was doing wrong and was able to correct it."

The victory evened Erickson's record at 1-1 and allowed the Orioles to grab the first game of a six-game road trip that continues in Texas starting tonight.

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