O's pitching hits lows and highs in split with Indians

Rapp is ripped, 14-3, Mercedes excels, 4-0, in O's roller coaster

July 30, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

With an influx of younger players in their lineup, the Orioles probably can expect a drop in their run production over the last two months of the season. That's the price a team pays for investing in its future.

But how many runs will they continue to give up when Jose Mercedes doesn't start? And how costly will this become?

A pitching staff that grew progressively better last year after a horrid start has gotten worse with each passing month. Another battering came in Game 1 of yesterday's doubleheader, when the Cleveland Indians treated Pat Rapp like a pinata for four innings while taking a 14-3 victory before 47,715 at Camden Yards.

Played in a more intimate setting, with most of the upper deck empty, the Orioles salvaged the second game and some respect for their starters when Mercedes blanked the Indians over seven innings in a 4-0 victory. It was Mercedes' third straight victory, and it came after he had been removed from the rotation earlier in the week to make room for rookie left-hander John Parrish.

Mercedes (6-4), the club's only starter with a winning record, made Brady Anderson's 41st career leadoff homer stand up by scattering six hits. He escaped a jam in the sixth by retiring Wil Cordero on a broken-bat tapper to the mound after allowing a two-out double to Manny Ramirez and walking Jim Thome. He had retired nine in a row.

Suddenly, a pitcher who stayed in the minors last season and twice lost his spot in the rotation this year has become the stopper. Mercedes has permitted only four runs in his last 21 innings. Last night, he ended the Orioles' five-game losing streak.

"He was tremendous," manager Mike Hargrove said. "He threw in the bullpen yesterday. That's one reason we wanted to play a split [doubleheader] tomorrow instead of today. Now I'm glad we didn't."

Rapp faced 25 batters in four innings, allowing eight runs and 10 hits. Ramirez took him deep twice, including a grand slam that capped a five-run second inning. It continued a pattern for Rapp of winning once a month since going 3-1 in April.

It continued a more disturbing pattern for Orioles pitchers, who had posted a 6.65 ERA in July before Mercedes took the mound.

The team ERA was 5.37 in April, 5.60 in May and 5.94 in June. Only the Kansas City Royals, at 5.79, had a worse collective ERA than the Orioles' 5.78 before yesterday.

Asked where he would rank his pitching staff among his concerns, Hargrove said, "Last in baseball. That's a concern."

Before yesterday, his starters were 12-25 with a 6.19 ERA in the last 48 games after going 5-3 with a 3.11 ERA over a 16-game period. Now he's faced with a rotation missing former workhorse Scott Erickson, who might not pitch again this season. Rapp has ventured into the seventh inning only three times since May. Mike Mussina is 6-10 and winless since July 7. Sidney Ponson has lost three consecutive starts.

"It's certainly gone in cycles here," Hargrove said. "There for a while we were getting very, very good starting pitching, but it's kind of gone south on us. You would think that with the experience of our pitchers that we'd make better and quicker adjustments on the mound, which we haven't done. That's a concern.

"There's nothing wrong with the people we have on the staff now as far as health is concerned, so it's just a matter of execution and getting it done."

In Game 1, the Indians became the second team to collect 20 hits off the Orioles in three games. The Yankees matched that total in a 19-1 win on Tuesday.

Jolbert Cabrera, batting ninth, went 5-for-5. Omar Vizquel had four hits in the first five innings. And the abuse didn't stop when Rapp left. Gabe Molina was charged with five earned runs in three innings.

Rapp (6-7) was working on seven days' rest. Worried earlier in the week that he might be too strong, he was burned repeatedly by a fastball with no movement.

"He was up with everything," Hargrove said. ""When he kept the ball down he got ground balls and got outs, but he didn't get away with any mistakes up."

"I couldn't get the ball where I wanted it," said Rapp, who allowed his most runs of the season. "The best pitch of the game cut about a foot, and then I don't think another ball cut all day. Everything was straight and up in the zone and it was getting hit hard.

"I made adjustments out there. It seemed like I could get the guys out after it was too late."

Rapp second-guessed himself for throwing in the bullpen only once before making yesterday's start, but added, "I had a good side [session] and that was just two days ago."

One saving grace in Game 1 was Ryan Kohlmeier, whose major-league debut included two scoreless innings. He stayed ahead of hitters, a strength noted on the scouting report given to Hargrove, and kept his composure after giving up a single and walk with two outs in the ninth. His fastball was clocked regularly at 93 mph.

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