Wins don't hang up Thrift's trade phone

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Despite recent run, VP shops likes of Erickson

June 18, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations, met again with manager Mike Hargrove before last night's loss to the Anaheim Angels. And he continued to field phone calls from other clubs, with the injury-ravaged Cleveland Indians maintaining strong interest in starter Scott Erickson.

And he continued to see the six-game winning streak that the Orioles carried into the game as unable to change which direction the team wants to go.

Thrift will make trades if possible, with an emphasis on adding youth and speed to an aging roster. He said the Orioles' recent run, which reduced their deficit in the AL East to six games, hadn't made any potential personnel decisions more difficult.

The Indians, desperate for pitching help and 7 1/2 games behind the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central, apparently are the most frequent callers to Thrift. But they're far from alone. The Arizona Diamondbacks continue to inquire about shortstop Mike Bordick. The New York Yankees are interested in left fielder B. J. Surhoff. And the St. Louis Cardinals have targeted catcher Charles Johnson.

"I can't think of many teams we've missed," Thrift said. "But everybody's looking for the same thing. It ought to be interesting to see who ends up with what."

Erickson's situation becomes more complicated on July 7, when he attains status as a 10-5 player (10 years in the majors, five with one club) and can veto any trade.

Asked if that date held any significance, Thrift wouldn't reveal his hand. "It's three days after the 4th. That's the only significance I know it has," he said, laughing.

As for the Orioles' improved play, which has lifted them from 10 games below .500, Thrift said, "I'm really not surprised by what we're doing. I expected it before now. We went a long time with Albert [Belle] and B. J. not producing. That's a huge difference."

But not enough of one to keep Thrift off the phone.

Sigh of relief

The Orioles began last night with a bullpen ERA of 6.00, the lowest it's been since May 11. Once fingered as the biggest culprits of the team's steady decline in the AL East, with 15 blown saves, relievers have permitted only six earned runs in 23 1/3 innings.

Jose Mercedes, who most likely will be sent down to Triple-A Rochester once Calvin Maduro is activated, gave up three of those runs during Wednesday's 11-10 win over the Texas Rangers. Another was surrendered by Jason Johnson, who had been pressed into bullpen duty after having his turn skipped.

"This is what we've been hoping for and shooting for the whole year, for the bullpen to pitch the way it is," said left-hander Buddy Groom, who has been scored upon in one of his last eight appearances.

"We're our own best friends out there. Nobody else is really pulling for us as much as ourselves. When one of us fails, we all feel like we didn't do the job, and when we succeed, we're all happy about it. ...I think that's going to happen now. I think things are a lot more solidified down there than earlier."

Groom sees roles becoming more defined for the relievers as they continue to pitch effectively, especially with left-hander Chuck McElroy allowing just one earned run in his last 11 2/3 innings and earning back Hargrove's trust in tight situations.

"With Alan [Mills] down there now, we don't always have to go to me and [Mike] Trombley every night," Groom said. "And Chuck is throwing the ball well, so you can go to any one of those four at any time and feel good."

Groom has been used for just one-third of an inning in two of his last three appearances, striking out Mo Vaughn on three pitches to end the seventh inning of Friday's 4-3 win. He hasn't gone more than 1 2/3 innings since April 28, when he tossed two scoreless innings to earn the win against Texas. He went three innings on April 6 to get his first save as an Oriole.

"Whatever they need me to do is fine," he said. "I feel comfortable doing what I've been doing."

Riley pushed to 'pen

No longer focused on preparing him for the major-league rotation, the Orioles continue to use Matt Riley out of the bullpen at Double-A Bowie to build arm strength and get him in better condition.

The left-hander went one inning Friday night, walking one and striking out two in Bowie's 5-1 loss to Harrisburg.

Riley, who made three starts for the Orioles last September, was limited to two innings in spring training because of soreness in his left biceps muscle. He made two starts at Triple-A Rochester before going on the disabled list with a strained left rotator cuff and being transferred to Bowie. He started twice for the Baysox before going to the bullpen, where he's pitched three times in relief.

Riley has allowed 19 runs and 19 hits, with 12 walks, in 7 2/3 innings. He's involved in a daily conditioning program designed by pitching coach Dave Schmidt, and club officials are hopeful that he'll be in the Baysox's rotation - and throwing with the desired results - by Aug. 1.

"They have a specific plan that they do each day," Thrift said. "He's making progress. He may throw six curveballs. Two of the six now would be the old curveball. That may seem insignificant, but that's progress. Maybe two weeks ago, you didn't see any of those. And the fastball's 91, 92 mph."

Around the horn

Thrift said the Orioles haven't started negotiations with their No. 1 draft pick, University of Texas pitcher Beau Hale. The right-hander threw 155 innings this year, so there's no rush to get him on a mound. ... Even though Sidney Ponson threw only 49 pitches in three innings before a 2:07 rain delay removed him from Thursday's game, Hargrove said he never considered altering the rotation to bring him back sooner than Tuesday in Oakland. ... Washington Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig threw out the first pitch. ... Vaughn's homer was his 16th against the Orioles at Camden Yards, most by a visiting player. He was tied with Belle at 15.

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