O's short on the pitch in 8-2 loss

Johnson goes 2 2/3, Julio shows age in setback to Tigers

Return to .500 foiled

Holt's complete game halts bid for sweep, 7-game Detroit slide

April 27, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

DETROIT - If someone looked closely enough at the Orioles' 8-2 loss yesterday to the woebegone Detroit Tigers - actually, if someone looked at all - the shortcomings of a developing team asked to do more with less were painfully obvious.

There was Jason Johnson, the starting pitcher unable to overcame a relapse of shaky mechanics or an altered routine that had him throw between starts at 8:30 a.m. Monday.

There was B.J. Ryan, the left-handed setup man pitching out of role in the third inning because the right-handed long reliever is now in the starting rotation and the left-handed long man was optioned to Rochester on Tuesday.

Tomorrow's scheduled starter against the Twins, Chuck McElroy, walked through the bullpen gates in the seventh inning, facing two hitters with his team trailing by six runs.

Perhaps most glaringly, a 4-2 game disintegrated when an obviously nervous Jorge Julio was brought into a nervous situation to make his major-league debut. Julio, who had never pitched above Single-A before this season, looked his age (22) and his experience level.

The unique combination left the Orioles trailing 1-0 after the Tigers' first batter, second baseman Jose Macias, homered; 2-0 after the first inning; and 4-0 when Johnson was removed after using 72 pitches to get eight outs. Delino DeShields' RBI triple and Mike Kinkade's single in the sixth inning cut the deficit to 4-2. But necessity brought Julio into a situation that quickly consumed him and the Orioles' chances for their first sweep of the season. The Orioles (10-12) were also denied their first return to .500 since April 11.

In a perfect world, Hargrove would have a 12th pitcher, a healthy cleanup hitter and a dexterous bench. But since he has none of those, he played for another day.

Asked about the possibility of adding another pitcher, Hargrove said: "Not right now. There are other things that go into that decision."

Interpretation: The Orioles must trade or release a player to gain maneuverability. While the club hovers around .500 without a protracted losing streak, nothing forces such a move.

Before a crowd of 18,824 at Comerica Park, Tigers starting pitcher Chris Holt (2-2) became the third arm this season to deal a complete game at the Orioles. Facing them for the first time ever, Holt entered with a 22-44 career record, just three complete games in 93 starts and a troubled start to this season that included a 7.13 ERA.

None of those trends continued against the Orioles. They managed nine hits, but only one for extra bases and trailed after the Tigers' first swing of the game.

The outcome halted the Tigers' seven-game losing streak and the Orioles' string of three consecutive wins. Johnson's early struggles continued a recent trend of sour starts by any pitcher not named Pat Hentgen or Willis Roberts. He lasted 2 2/3 innings without a breaking pitch or a rhythm, suffering four earned runs while allowing eight hits, 10 base runners and giving a disturbing rendition of what left him with a 1-10 record last season. A creature of habit, Johnson (1-2) cited a morning side session on Monday's day off as contributing to his out-of-kilter appearance.

"I didn't have command of too many pitches today because I've been too jerky in my windup," said Johnson. "It's something I'm going to have to work out before my next start. ... It just wasn't my day. I'm not happy with the loss, but if I think about it too much, it might affect my next start."

For the first time this season, Hargrove employed rookie Jay Gibbons as his cleanup hitter. Gibbons, 24, had never played above Double-A before this season and is deemed by Hargrove as one of two developmental position players along with catcher Fernando Lunar.

Gibbons managed a 1-for-4 afternoon as David Segui, Cal Ripken and Jeff Conine sat because of a combination of injuries and organizational direction. Ripken has now not played in four of the team's last eight games as Hargrove alternates him with the rookie Kinkade.

McElroy remains Saturday's projected starter. But Hargrove wouldn't rule out using him tonight, which would necessitate promoting Josh Towers or John Parrish from Rochester. Under the circumstances, he had little choice but to bring Julio into a close situation.

Julio, who had dominated at Double-A Bowie, walked two, fumbled a bunt for an error and allowed a bases-loaded triple to Juan Encarnacion that bumped the Tigers' lead to 7-2. Two hitters later, Shane Halter doubled home Encarnacion. Another walk ousted Julio.

"Our long guy is starting on Saturday. B.J. Ryan came in and did a tremendous job out of his role. Julio came in and was obviously tight and nervous. He's a guy who throws the ball 95, 97 miles per hour and he's throwing 88, 89, gripping the ball hard. He's a young kid. I don't necessarily think we'd base a decision on someone going out there for the first time," Hargrove said.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: Metrodome, Minneapolis

Time: 8:05

TV/Radio: CSN/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Jose Mercedes (0-3, 8.34) vs. Twins' Joe Mays (2-1, 2.86)

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