Indians sweep off O's hopes

Indians sweep off O's hopes

McElroy likely loses role as well as game in 11-5 series finale

23 runs sink Orioles' spirits

Lefty bound for 'pen

Segui ejected in first

April 20, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

If the Orioles opened their three-game series against the Cleveland Indians with some hope for a brighter 2001 than originally expected, they ended it with growing doubts about virtually every aspect of the team.

The Indians battered the pitching staff for 23 runs on the way to a three-game sweep at Camden Yards, the finale a discouraging 11-5 loss before 34,100 that signaled at least one major change in the club's blueprint for this transitional season.

Left-hander Chuck McElroy lasted just 4 1/3 innings and gave up five runs (four earned) on seven hits in what apparently will be his last turn in the starting rotation.

Club officials were buoyed by his performance in two experimental starts last September, but McElroy is winless in three starts with a 6.92 ERA. No one is saying it officially yet, but he is all but certain to give up his place in the rotation to one of the team's top pitching prospects before his start next weekend.

That could leave the club with only two productive starting pitchers. Veteran Pat Hentgen is winless despite pitching very well in his first four starts and Jason Johnson has - so far - delivered a striking contrast to last year's 1-10 performance.

Rookie Willis Roberts already has moved into the rotation to replace injured Sidney Ponson, so Hargrove could turn to either left-hander John Bale, newly promoted Chad Paronto or minor-leaguer Josh Towers.

McElroy could see the writing on the wall after yesterday's lackluster performance. He might even welcome a return to a more familiar left-handed middle relief role.

"I'd have no problem with that," he said after the game. "Whatever is best for the team. I just want to be ready to help. This is new to me. I know I have 10 years in the big leagues, but I'm still learning. All I can do is go out and keep grinding."

Manager Mike Hargrove told everyone in the clubhouse to do just that during a post-game meeting on Wednesday night. He saw an inexperienced team losing focus and acted to get everyone back on the same psychological page. He said yesterday he did see some positives in the lopsided loss.

"We addressed some issues last night," he said. "I think our focus and intensity were better. Last night, we gave up two runs in the first inning and all the air went right out of the balloon. Today we gave up two runs in the first and that didn't happen."

McElroy gave up two runs in a first inning that was complicated by a Cal Ripken error, but the Orioles came right back to tie against Indians rookie C. C. Sabathia (2-0) in the bottom of the inning. They seemed poised to take the lead until Sabathia escaped with a strikeout, throw-out double play that prompted another in a series of Orioles challenges to baseball's expanded strike zone.

David Segui was called out on a full-count pitch that he felt was at his ankles and Jeff Conine was thrown out stealing second to end the rally. Segui voiced his displeasure to home plate umpire Ron Kulpa and was promptly given the rest of the day off. It was the first time an Orioles player has been ejected this year.

Segui got the hook when he tried to show Kulpa where the pitch was by drawing an imaginary line with his bat.

Segui is off to a very disappointing start. He signed a four-year, $28 million contract to be the Orioles' new cleanup hitter, but was hampered all spring by a hamstring injury and is batting just .167. He insisted, however, that yesterday's blowup was not the cumulative result of everything that has gone wrong during his first two months back with the Orioles.

"I always say something when I get called out on a pitch like that, especially with two strikes," Segui said. "I would do that whether I'm going good or bad or the team's doing well or not doing well."

Hargrove seconded that.

"I thought that David had a legitimate beef," he said. "I think that ball was low and obviously the umpire didn't. Considering when it happened in the ballgame, it was an important call."

Segui isn't the only Orioles player to struggle with the new interpretation of the strike zone. Hargrove said that Melvin Mora also has fallen victim to "an exceptional number of borderline calls," but that was just fodder for Wednesday night's team meeting.

"There are things we can control and things we can't control," Hargrove added. "We can't control what the umpire calls."

Though he saw improved focus on the field, the Orioles continued to make costly mistakes.

The first Indians run scored because the Orioles were unable to execute cleanly on three different plays involving Cleveland leadoff hitter Kenny Lofton, who opened the game with a solid single.

He stole second on a slow exchange from McElroy to catcher Brook Fordyce and went to third on a passed ball before scoring on a rare misplay by Ripken.

The third baseman pounced on a chopper off the bat of No. 2 hitter Jolbert Cabrera and looked Lofton back toward third, but Lofton broke for the plate on the throw to first and scored easily when that throw pulled Segui off first.

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