Indians' ace leaves O's in the hole

Colon pitches eight shutout innings in 4-1 win over Orioles

No support for 0-2 Hentgen

Ripken sits, may not start again today

April 19, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The Orioles furthered their season of transition last night. It involved a 4-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians before a deep-chilled 28,801 at Camden Yards, a fourth game of little support for starting pitcher Pat Hentgen and a lineup twist that was perhaps most telling of all.

Manager Mike Hargrove posted a lineup that featured 27-year-old rookie Mike Kinkade instead of Cal Ripken at third base. And before last night's lockdown by Indians starter Bartolo Colon had even begun, Hargrove said he intended to repeat the move today. With the slow-starting Ripken among the Orioles' collection of slumping hitters, Hargrove's move suggests it's time to take a look from a different angle.

"At his age coming off two years of injuries, he's not the everyday player he used to be," Hargrove said. "But he is a future Hall of Famer who's going to play ... not every day."

Kinkade answered with mixed results on a busy night. He contributed two of the Orioles' six hits, walked to bring the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning, grounded into a rally-killing double play in the second inning, then was one of three fielders who watched a infield pop fall untouched during the Indians' decisive two-run third inning.

The Orioles appear willing to watch what develops.

Last season Hargrove spoke with Ripken before sitting him. There is no such formality this year. Ripken learned of last night's benching when he arrived at the ballpark and remained unaware of today's status.

"We'll deal with tomorrow when it gets here," Ripken said.

Though Ripken's off days have become a lesser issue this year, Hargrove's statement surprised those who believed the Iron Man would rest, but not necessarily in consecutive days.

Hargrove faces a dilemma unlike any of his predecessors: how to give appropriate time to an organizational and industry icon while adhering to the team's renovation blueprint.

The Orioles have very little wiggle room with Kinkade. At 27, he lacks minor-league options, meaning he must remain in Baltimore or be exposed to irrevocable waivers. He is also considered an offensive player who entered this season with just 57 major-league at-bats but a .335 career minor-league average. Kinkade led the Eastern League in hitting last season at an advanced age for Double-A while used primarily as a catcher.

"We need to find out about him," Hargrove said.

Said Kinkade: "I haven't looked at this situation as anything other than being ready to play every day. Every day I'm put in the lineup I'm going to give my best whether it's at third, first or left field."

Ripken is one of six corner infielders on a roster that includes no backup middle infielder. To feed Kinkade, Jay Gibbons and Chris Richard at-bats at the same time is difficult under such constraints.

While Hargrove tries to serve experience and youth, Ripken is attempting to find a comfort zone at the plate. Coming off a spring training abbreviated by a rib fracture, Ripken is still seeking his offensive rhythm while batting .125 with one double and four RBI in 40 at-bats.

"It's an interruption to some degree," said Ripken. "The only way you're going to get it straightened out is being on the field between the lines. At-bats and success you have during the game helps you get going. So I don't think it's overly disruptive, but it's a part of the season when it's hard to get on track. The weather and the irregularity of the schedule add to it. But I don't see it as a negative right now."

Without Ripken, the 6-9 Orioles scratched for six hits, including two each from Kinkade and catcher Greg Myers. Held to fewer than four runs for the 10th time, the Orioles continue to seek a lineup that can manufacture more than a sporadic threat.

"I don't know if it's finding the right combination," said Hargrove, who has tried 14 lineups in 15 games. "I think it's a matter of getting guys untracked, getting them settled and being the hitters they can be and the players their talent says they are. We've got 147 left to play. It's going to turn for us."

Hitting .199, the Orioles have managed 10 hits in only one nine-inning game. They are 29-for-163 (.178) against the Indians, who face the Orioles today for the final time this season.

Armed with a power assortment similar to Sidney Ponson's, Colon (2-1) allowed nothing through eight innings. The Orioles avoided the season's third shutout against Bob Wickman in the ninth inning when first baseman Chris Richard followed Myers' one-out single with a double into the right-center field gap. A walk to Kinkade brought Jerry Hairston to the plate with the tying run, but he struck out looking for the second time.

"It was one of those nights where I couldn't pull the trigger," Hairston said. "They made some good pitches on the outside corner. You try to fight them off. But for some reason I couldn't pull the trigger. I wish I could, but it's too late now."

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