ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - With the Orioles having an off day on Monday after concluding their three-game series with Tampa Bay, they won't need a fifth starter until next Saturday in Minnesota. Chuck McElroy's turn will be skipped Tuesday, with Pat Hentgen making the start in Detroit's spacious Comerica Park on five days' rest instead of the usual four.
McElroy still hasn't been told whether he'll remain in the rotation, though it's assumed he's headed to the bullpen and a more familiar role. Manager Mike Hargrove hinted at a change after McElroy failed to get past the fifth inning for the third time on Thursday, allowing four earned runs in an 11-5 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Camden Yards.
"That will be addressed at some point before Chuck's next start," Hargrove said after the game. "I'm just not ready to comment on it right now."
He still didn't have much to say on the subject yesterday, indicating that it was too soon to make any announcements. McElroy, for his part, continues to approach each day like he's getting ready for another start - which would be the sixth of his major-league career, including two last September, after 603 relief appearances.
"I haven't heard anything yet. All I can do is prepare myself the best that I can. It's all new to me," he said.
Hargrove could choose to swap left-handers, with John Bale joining the rotation in place of McElroy. Willis Roberts made his first major-league start last night in place of Sidney Ponson, and could continue in that role after Ponson comes off the disabled list.
The club also is keeping tabs on Triple-A Rochester's Josh Towers, who threw a complete-game shutout in his last start. Towers, who's crafted a reputation as a control specialist, didn't go to a three-ball count the entire game.
Though preferring to remain a starter, which is how he prepared his workout schedule this winter, McElroy insisted he won't be disappointed if sent to the bullpen.
"It wouldn't do any good," he said. "All I've got to do is keep my head on right. That stuff's out of my control. Now, if I was a 20-game winner three years in a row and was being taken out of the rotation, that would be different. It's whatever they decide.`
No hit parade here
Last night's game featured two clubs with the lowest batting averages in the American League. The Devil Rays were hitting .224, which still gave them a comfortable margin over the Orioles, who needed a late push on Thursday to increase their average to .203.
The starting lineup included four players who were hitting below .200: Brady Anderson (.190), Brook Fordyce (.171), David Segui (.167) and Delino DeShields (.106). Melvin Mora (.146) began the game on the bench, along with Cal Ripken (.140).
"I believe in the guys in this clubhouse," said Jerry Hairston, who was batting .212. "We'll get it going. You don't want to keep saying it's early, yet it is."
Both sides now
Rookie Chad Paronto has seen both sides of the majors, and in only two days.
His debut on Wednesday produced two perfect innings against the Cleveland Indians, including a strikeout of Marty Cordova. On Thursday, he allowed four runs and four hits in 1 1/3 innings after replacing McElroy. The first batter he faced, Cordova, crushed a three-run homer.
He woke up yesterday morning with a 10.80 ERA, which won't cause him to lose sleep.
"It's going to be uneven. I've just got to hope I have more good outings than bad outings," said Paronto, whose contract was bought from Triple-A Rochester when Ponson went on the DL.
"By no means am I going to let what happened [Thursday] bother me. I've had a taste of both now. I just have to go out and keep throwing. I was a little tight, a little drained by the excitement of the first day. But they also hit some good pitches."
Paronto re-established himself as a bona fide prospect by going 2-0 with a 3.27 ERA in spring training.
"He came in and wasn't afraid," said pitching coach Mark Wiley. "He attacked major-league hitters right away. He did all the things we wanted him to do. He competed for a job and darn-near won it. I'm sure there will be some adjustments he'll have to make.
"Because he's a strong person, he'll probably overthrow like all young guys do. But if we can get him in circumstances where we can make him feel comfortable, I think we'll see the results of all his hard work."
Paronto, who's listed at 6 feet 5 and 255 pounds, finished 1-1 with a 5.75 ERA in 12 games at Rochester last year, including six starts. He also went 4-2 with a 2.87 ERA in eight starts at Double-A Bowie.
The Orioles determined he was better suited for relief after posting a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings out of Rochester's bullpen, compared to 7.56 in 25 innings as a starter.
"I don't care how they use me here. I'll do anything," he said. "Help the club win and don't give them a reason to send me down. Make the decision hard."