Hargrove: O's not `over hill'

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Returning manager defends punchless bats

June 06, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Manager Mike Hargrove returned from two days of family time to find that nothing had changed. The Orioles still are struggling to bring together all the elements necessary to play consistent winning baseball.

"It comes back to the fact that we didn't score enough runs to win," Hargrove said after reviewing the two losses the club suffered in Montreal while he was in Ohio for his son's high school graduation. "We got good pitching from our starting rotation, which is good. ... It's just a matter of us going out and turning things around."

The question is when. The Orioles have several veteran players producing below expectations, which raises obvious questions about the true potential of the offensive lineup, but Hargrove isn't ready to blame the club's inconsistent performance on the calendar.

"You look at the people that we have, and historically, they have put up good numbers over their careers," Hargrove said. "I don't think that these guys are over the hill. So yeah, I think that they can hit and we'll score runs.

"Earlier this season, it was our pitching. Now, the offense has been the problem the last 15 or so ballgames. We've got to get them going at the same time."

Hargrove was unable to watch Sunday's game on television, but he applauded the outstanding performance of starter Sidney Ponson and a starting rotation that has produced 16 quality starts in the last 20 games, yet has been credited with just six victories, including last night's.

"It's pretty hard to win with three hits," he said.

Though the interleague visits to Montreal and Shea Stadium have forced the Orioles to play the last four games without the designated hitter, the status of struggling DH Harold Baines is fast becoming a troublesome issue for Hargrove, who insists that Baines will snap out of the lengthy slump that has kept his batting average in the low .200s for much of the season.

"Harold has a chance to be a Hall of Fame player," Hargrove said. "I don't want to put some time limit on him and say if he doesn't do something by June 25, something's going to happen. ... That wouldn't be fair to him or the team. I think Harold is a great hitter. I think he still has some hits in him. I'm not sitting here making excuses for him. He has to get back on track, but I don't want to sit here and talk about something like that in the press. That wouldn't be right."

The offensive struggles have not been limited to Baines. Left fielder B. J. Surhoff has not been able to replicate last year's team-MVP performance and slugger Albert Belle is just starting to show signs of settling into his summer groove.

Hargrove, however, said that the offensive problems of late did not influence his decision to shuffle the lineup for last night's game - moving Jeff Conine and Charles Johnson up in the order.

`That was just to give some guys a breather," Hargrove explained. "We've got a left-hander pitching against us, so I've got a lot of right-handed hitters in the lineup."

Maduro works out

Pitching prospect Calvin Maduro threw off the mound yesterday for the first time since being forced onto the disabled list with a strained elbow ligament.

If all goes well, Maduro will throw again tomorrow and then go out on a short injury rehabilitation assignment to one of the local minor-league affiliates. Ideally, Maduro would make three or four minor-league appearances and then rejoin the club in time for next week's series against Texas.

Moving to top of line

The Mets recalled promising outfielder Jason Tyner from their Triple-A club at Norfolk, Va., yesterday and put him right into the starting lineup in the leadoff position last night, where he had two hits.

Interesting timing. Tyner was activated on the day of the June first-year player draft just two years after the Mets made him their first pick in the 1998 June free-agent draft.

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