Orioles get little relief in bowing to Rays, 6-5

Johnson can't hold fort

shuffling goes on

April 22, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Orioles manager Mike Hargrove needed innings yesterday from Jason Johnson. Lots of them. If not a complete game, then a pretty good imitation.

He needed the bullpen to rest, the latest edition of his ever-changing lineup to remain active. He needed a club scraping for runs and victories to piece together enough offense to create the first winning streak of 2001.

Johnson couldn't give him more than six innings, and getting that far became a chore. And the Orioles again failed to establish any momentum this season, losing to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 6-5, before 14,026 at Tropicana Field.

Playing inside a bland facility that resembles a warehouse with bases, the Orioles could have used a fresh supply of relievers. They were not in storage.

They were without left-hander Buddy Groom for a second straight game because of lower-back spasms that probably will make him unavailable again today. Groom eased his body into a recliner in the visitors' clubhouse while the Orioles filed out to stretch and take batting practice.

Hargrove said another left-hander, Chuck McElroy, could have been used only "on a limited basis" after going 4 1/3 innings in Thursday's start. Mike Trombley went 3 1/3 innings the previous two games, throwing 44 pitches on Friday.

Closer Ryan Kohlmeier also was used on consecutive days, throwing 28 pitches in Friday's ninth inning. Rookie Chad Paronto was given a reprieve in that game after making two straight appearances and accumulating 51 pitches.

In a perfect setting, which Hargrove already can't depend upon, Johnson would have gotten through the eighth with a comfortable lead.

But once the lanky right-hander needed 32 pitches to complete the third, when Tampa Bay scored three runs to move ahead, those plans became less realistic.

Johnson (1-1) gave up five runs and six hits before John Bale finished the last two innings. "I wasn't able to locate anything," Johnson said. "I was jumping out a little bit. My mechanics were a little off, and because of it I wasn't throwing the pitches exactly where I wanted them. But it's easy to correct."

The bullpen remained still in the seventh as Bale loaded the bases on a double and two walks. And in the eighth when John Flaherty doubled and later scored on a two-out infield hit by Randy Winn.

Bale had been warming when Johnson allowed a 463-foot homer by Ben Grieve, the first this season for the former AL Rookie of the Year, in the sixth inning that increased Tampa Bay's lead to 5-3.

The ball glanced off a catwalk in center field about 100 feet above the playing surface and landed on a walkway above the Batters Eye Restaurant, making him the first player to reach that location.

"I didn't even see how far it went. He smoked that ball," said center fielder Melvin Mora.

Hargrove used his 17th different lineup in 18 games, this one including Jerry Hairston batting leadoff for the first time and Mike Kinkade making his first major-league start behind the plate.

Cal Ripken returned after missing two of the previous three games and blooped a run-scoring single into right field in the fourth. He also made a diving stop to his right in the same inning to slow the Devil Rays' assault on Johnson, who had allowed a leadoff double and RBI single before Ripken's defensive gem.

Brady Anderson began the game on the bench despite Tampa Bay starting a right-hander, Ryan Rupe, as Hargrove continued to evaluate younger talent.

The experimenting will necessitate sacrifices from the club's more established players, including Ripken, whose starts most likely will diminish at least slightly despite his good health.

Without Anderson in the lineup, Hargrove went searching for someone else to bat atop the order. He considered Delino DeShields, but didn't want to tamper with success.

DeShields has emerged from a season-long funk with three hits on Friday and two more yesterday. He'll continue batting third, which means that when Anderson sits, Hairston climbs.

If only his average would do the same. Growing more frustrated by a slump that's left him batting .183, Hairston went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and double play. He offered at Rupe's first pitch after a walk to Mora loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth, and flew to right.

Anderson pinch-hit for him in the ninth with the Orioles trailing 6-3 and lined a run-scoring single off former Oriole Esteban Yan. Anderson later scored on a bouncer by DeShields before Jeff Conine struck out with the tying run on first base.

Keeping Jay Gibbons in the lineup also must be a hot topic. He started again yesterday, driving in the Orioles' first run with a grounder and lining a single off the right-field fence in the sixth.

Gibbons' RBI came after Segui lost an apparent home run in the second inning. A fan reached over the railing in left field and snatched the ball with his glove. It was ruled a homer until Devil Rays manager Hal McRae spoke with third base umpire Gerry Davis, who then conferred with the rest of the crew.

Segui was directed to second base because of fan interference, bringing Hargrove from the dugout before Segui could re-locate his batting helmet. Segui argued with Davis and second base umpire Tim Tschida, who originally had called it a homer. Third base coach Tom Trebelhorn rushed over to prevent Segui's second ejection in three games.

"Nothing surprises me with what I've seen this year," said Segui. "The bottom line is trying to get it right, but my question is, why weren't they trying to get it right until Hal McRae came out of the dugout and [complained] about it? If he hadn't, were they not going to try to get it right?"

McRae won more than an argument. The game provided his first victory since Aug. 9, 1994, while managing Kansas City, a span of 2,441 days.

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