Rocked Ryan could roll off roster when Maduro is ready

SPORTS DIGEST

Lost confidence feared in young O's reliever

June 01, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - While much of their staff gradually returns to normalcy, the Orioles received another jarring vision from rookie B.J. Ryan Tuesday night.

Handed a seemingly secure8-3 lead in the ninth inning against the hapless Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Ryan allowed two runners inherited from starter Sidney Ponson to score before surrendering a two-run homer to designated hitter Steve Cox. He had to be rescued from an 8-7 game with closer Mike Timlin securing a save on a three-pitch strikeout of Greg Vaughn. The effort took some of the edge off the Orioles'sixth win in seven games and resurrected questions about Ryan's status.

No roster move is believed imminent but the struggling left-hander's status may be jeopardized when Calvin Maduro leaves the disabled list in the next seven to 10 days.

Manager Mike Hargrove said Maduro will begin a throwing program today that will extend through this weekend's series in Montreal. Depending on Maduro's progress, the club could then send Maduro on a minor-league rehab assignment next week with him projected to be activated when the Orioles begin a nine-game homestand on June 9.

Hargrove has said repeatedly he is not committed to three left-handed relievers - Chuck McElroy and Buddy Groom also remain - but does expect "everyone to be able to contribute." Ryan has found difficulty meeting that condition since a traumatic outing in New York May 5.

It was that night against the Yankees that Ryan allowed a game-losing three-run homer to catcher Jorge Posada. Sentiment exists that the mistake did serious damage to the rookie's confidence.

Ryan,24, has allowed 14 earned runs in 3 1/3 innings covering his last seven appearances. Hargrove insists his pitcher is sound physically but admits concern over Ryan's tendency of sacrificing velocity in order to throw strikes.

"He's struggling right now. There's no secret about that," said pitching coach Sammy Ellis. "How long it's going to take for him to sort things out, I don't know. I do know in the bullpen he seems to pull things together but he has trouble maintaining under fire."

After compiling an 0.66 ERA through May 5, Ryan saw it jump to 7.02 on May 18. Tuesday's performance jacked it to a season-high 7.11.

Ellis believes Ryan is "spinning" in his delivery. By prematurely opening his front shoulder, Ryan is costing himself precision and velocity. "He definitely needs to pitch up and down," Ellis said.

Many organizations might have Ryan sort his problems at Triple-A. However, the Orioles' pitching at Triple-A Rochester is thin. Gabe Molina had a 3.38 ERA through 13 minor-league appearances, including a 1.08 ERA in his last six outings. Molina, however, did not distinguish himself during spring training and surrendered three runs in a one-inning appearance with the Orioles last month.

Ryan's recent struggles have done nothing to diminish the club's lofty projections for him. Acquired last July 31 from the Cincinnati Reds as part of a deal that cost the Orioles pending free-agent pitcher Juan Guzman, Ryan struck out28 in 18 1/3 innings covering 13 appearances with his new team. He allowed runs in only three of his first 33 appearances with the Orioles and seemed to validate predictions that he would become one of this season's breakthrough talents. Since, he has stalled.

"He's got to keep the ball down. You get hurt here when you allow the ball to come up," said Groom, who believes Ryan's most pressing need is more faith in himself. "You can get away with leaving the ball over the plate if it's down. That's what he needs to concentrate on: pitching down."

Praising composed Ponson

Hargrove extended his praise of Sidney Ponson the day after Ponson broke a string of six winless starts with 8 1/3 strong innings.

More impressive than Ponson's decision or his pitching line, according to Hargrove, was his improved disposition on the mound. Rather than sulk over adversity, Ponson retained his composure and pushed himself through a defensively-suspect performance.

"In his last two outings, he's had a couple of innings where the Sidney I saw last year would have given that `Why me? Here it goes again' body language and lost his temper," said Hargrove. "But the last two outings he's got the ball, given an aggressive posture on the mound, and it's like he's telling the other guys, `Hey, look. I'll pick you up.' That's what you like to see from your pitchers."

Around the horn

The Devil Rays continued their flurry of player movement before last night's game, trading infielder Tony Graffanino to the Chicago White Sox for right-handed pitcher Tanyon Sturtze. Graffanino was hitting .300 for the Rays before being designated for assignment on May 13. He had accepted a minor-league assignment before yesterday's deal. Sturtze had gone 1-2 with a 12.06 ERA with the White Sox and will join the club in time for tonight's series finale. ... Timlin's three-pitch strikeout of Vaughn to end Tuesday's game marked the eighth consecutive hitter he had retired in a four-game span. ... Will Clark is 7-for-33 (.233) since returning from the disabled list (hamstring) on May 18. ... Jeff Conine sat for a second straight day vs. right-handed pitching. Conine is riding a six-game hitting streak and has hit in 13 of his last 14 games, compiling a .400 average with 10 RBIs.

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