`7-hitter' NL is pitching joy, Hargrove says

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Bullpen and pinch hitters more of a factor

fans greet ex-Expo DeShields

June 03, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

MONTREAL - For a career American League manager, last night's opening of interleague play in a National League city represented an opportunity for Mike Hargrove to handle what is often described as more of a tactical game. The designated hitter evaporates, pitchers must hit to remain in the game and deficient bullpens and benches are harder to hide.

But in one respect, Hargrove believes the National League game offers a welcome relief.

"You essentially have seven hitters in the lineup you've got to get out," Hargrove said. "I don't mean to say you don't worry about the eighth hitter and the pitcher, but statistically, you pitch around the eighth hitter to get to the pitcher and then get him out.

"You bunt more. You use your bench more. Your bullpen comes into play more often," said Hargrove, who has received little from any of those.

The Orioles entered last night tied for next-to-last in the major leagues with seven bunts. (The New York Yankees had three.) Every National League team had sacrificed at least 15 times.

The bullpen entered last night with a 6.72 ERA and 14 blown saves in 21 opportunities. Left-handed reliever Chuck McElroy has appearedonce since May 14, the same as long reliever Jose Mercedes. Al Reyes has worked four times since being recalled from Rochester on May 14.

Orioles pinch hitters received only 12 at-bats through 51 games, with Jeff Conine the only player currently on the roster with a pinch RBI. Fourth outfielder Rich Amaral entered last night hitting .069 (2-for-29) in his past 12 games with an at-bat. He is also slowed by a sore lower back.

Hargrove projected activity for McElroy during the series and expressed confidence that rookie left-hander B. J. Ryan has begun to work through the problems that have left him with a 37.84 ERA over his past seven appearances.

"A lot of the pitching moves are dictated [by the pitcher hitting]," Hargrove said. "It's a nice change."

Sure enough, McElroy and Ryan appeared last night, with mixed results. Ryan gave up an RBI single in one-third of an inning. McElroy yielded no runs and had two strikeouts in pitching the eighth inning.

As for the embattled designated hitter, which commissioner Bud Selig would like to eliminate, Hargrove remains a strong proponent. "I think you get to see good players longer," he said. "You get to see a Dave Winfield, an Eddie Murray. What would a Mickey Mantle have done?"

Transfer of power

Hargrove was to leave town this morning to return to Cleveland for his son's high school graduation. While bench coach Jeff Newman will take over for Hargrove today and tomorrow, he will use the lineup prescribed by the everyday manager.

"We've already talked a little bit about it," Hargrove said. "I'll suggest a lineup to him. Then it'll be up to him to make changes based upon what happens."

Another country

Canada, especially Quebec, remains in mourning over last Saturday's death of hockey legend Maurice "Rocket" Richard. In his memory, the Expos have placed a No. 9 on every player's sleeve.

While hockey remains the national religion, baseball in Montreal resembles a sickness. Upper-deck seats are no longer sold and the Expos were averaging 13,259 attendance before last night.

While he continues to receive a lukewarm reception in Baltimore, second baseman Delino DeShields was warmly received when he batted in the first inning. DeShields played his firstfour major-league seasons in Montreal.

Old but not feeble

Because the Orioles rank as the game's oldest team, the common assumption has been that they are more vulnerable to injuries than their competition. However, over the previous three seasons, the Orioles actually have lost fewer games than all but four teams, according to a list published by the Philadelphia Daily News.

The Orioles have lost an average 551 games from 1997-99, more than only the Chicago White Sox (265.67), San Francisco Giants (333.33), Minnesota Twins (338.33) and Chicago Cubs (545). In their two seasons of existence, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (1,378) have been the most oft-injured, followed by the Anaheim Angels (1,229), Boston Red Sox (1,045.67) and New York Mets (1,018).

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