Hentgen: 3 starts, 5 runs, 0 wins

Mussina's replacement shares same bad luck

April 14, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

As Pat Hentgen ended the fifth inning last night with a strikeout of Tampa Bay's Russ Johnson, the Orioles' grounds crew ran toward the infield to replace the bases. The change was done purely out of habit. It's not as if there had been much contact with them.

While the Orioles were spending another night groping for runs, waiting until two outs in the fifth inning to collect their first hit, Hentgen again was proving them right for investing some of their free-agent dollars in him. Three starts into his first season here, he continues to resemble the ace that he replaced, which isn't all good.

Like Mike Mussina, he's been a terror to opposing hitters. Like Mussina, he remains one bad pitch away from defeat because of an offense that won't come out of its shell.

That pitch came in the seventh inning last night, with a 1-2 count on Greg Vaughn and the teams locked in a scoreless tie. Vaughn drilled a two-run homer into the seats in left-center field, leaving Hentgen bent forward with his hands on his knees. His recovery time would be much shorter than the Orioles', who wasted another quality start in a 2-0 loss to the Devil Rays at Camden Yards.

In 25 2/3 innings, Hentgen has limited teams to five runs and 13 hits. Opponents were batting .172 against him before the Devil Rays managed only three hits off him. His 1.62 ERA actually rose to 1.75.

"What we're getting from Pat is what we expected from Pat," said manager Mike Hargrove.

If there's no crying in baseball, there's also no justice when Hentgen pitches - especially on the night he became the first Orioles starter to go the distance.

"That's probably as good a pitching performance as you'll see all year long," Hargrove said.

It just wasn't good enough when compared to Tampa Bay's Albie Lopez, who allowed the same number of hits but kept the Orioles from scoring. "I got outpitched tonight," Hentgen said.

Home runs have produced all the damage off him this season. Boston's Trot Nixon took him deep in the fourth inning on Opening Day, and Hentgen was removed with two outs in the ninth in a game the Orioles won, 2-1, in the 11th.

Five days later, he responded to a two-run shot by Ellis Burks in the second by blanking the Indians the next six innings. Again, his reward was a no-decision. Again, the Orioles needed 11 innings before winning, this time 4-2 on a two-run double by backup catcher Fernando Lunar.

Vaughn's blast came on a fastball, down and away, that catcher Brook Fordyce didn't expect to disappear into the stands.

"That's not where his hot zone is," Fordyce said, "but he was strong enough to hit it out. You have to tip your hat to Vaughn.

"Pat was unbelievable tonight. He had it all. I don't think he hung a pitch. He was up and in, down and away. He was tremendous."

Hentgen made the Devil Rays resemble statues for much of the night. Five of his 10 strikeouts were looking, all of them between the fourth and seventh innings. He got Fred McGriff to end the fourth, Johnson to end the fifth, Felix Martinez with one out in the sixth and McGriff and Ben Grieve in succession after Vaughn's homer.

Aubrey Huff went down swinging to end that fateful seventh, as Hentgen responded to his only mistake in impressive fashion. If only the Orioles had done the same.

"It's a situation where you're a team out there and you try to pick each other up," Hentgen said.

The offensive problems are "out of your control," he added. "Everybody's out there grinding and trying their best. It goes in cycles. Sometimes hitting will pick up the pitching, and sometimes the pitching will pick up the hitting.

"You just go out there and battle and try to keep your team in the game, and I think I did that tonight."

The crowd gave Hentgen a standing ovation as he walked off the mound for the last time after striking out Vaughn in the ninth. He was given similar treatment on Opening Day and reacted by tipping his cap as he neared the dugout. This time, he couldn't even manage a smile.

Hentgen hadn't struck out 10 since May 4, 1997, with Toronto, the year after he won the American League's Cy Young Award. He walked only one - Vaughn with two outs in the fourth. But he wakes up today with an 0-1 record as an Oriole, insisting that he could have done more. Ignoring how he did enough to win on another night - or on another team.

"I'd think it's frustrating for everybody," Hargrove said. "The guy's going out there doing his job and we can't help him out."

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