W. Roberts, Groom find little relief


1-11 span makes calls rare for late relievers

September 06, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. - Two of the Orioles bullpen's September crusades have been slowed by their offense's inability to grab a late-inning lead.

Rookie Willis Roberts' audition as closer and setup man's Buddy Groom's pursuit of 70 appearances for a sixth consecutive season are being held hostage as the Orioles try to shake a 1-11 funk driven by nonexistent offense. Roberts hasn't converted a save and has made only four appearances since Aug. 23 against Tampa Bay. After pitching in back-to-back games Aug. 22-23, Groom has appeared in only four games since, meaning the left-hander must appear in 13 of the Orioles' last 23 games to preserve his record.

Desperate for work, Roberts came on to start yesterday's eighth inning of a game the Orioles trailed 11-4. Had he not appeared, Roberts intended to throw a side session before tomorrow's game in Seattle, a somewhat unconventional move for a closer.

"It's been a little different," said Roberts, who has kept himself loose with long toss before every game. "I haven't thrown much for five days."

Roberts was hammered for a home run by outfielder Jermaine Dye and a double by Orioles nemesis Eric Chavez during a turbulent inning. Pitching coach Mark Wiley interrupted the getaway inning of what was then an eight-run game with a mound visit.

Groom and Colorado Rockies reliever Mike Myers are the only pitchers ever to make 70 appearances in five consecutive seasons. Groom last year made 16 September appearances to keep the streak intact.

"It's something I'd like to do, but I don't know if it's going to be possible," said Groom, a pending free agent. "To do it I'd probably have to work three or four games in a row at some point and face just one or two hitters. I'd like to see it work out. But if it doesn't, it doesn't."

Considered a leading candidate as next season's closer, Roberts has blown only one of six save chances since being bumped from the starting rotation Aug. 3.

Asked if Roberts' spotty work schedule has made it more difficult to evaluate him, manager Mike Hargrove said, "We've seen what we've needed to see."

Out of order

The Orioles' 5-2 loss to the A's Tuesday night moved Hargrove to admit the obvious: His team's extended slump is a direct result of numerous players hitting in uncomfortable spots in the order.

A lineup that features projected utility player Jeff Conine as its cleanup hitter and a revolving door in the leadoff spot also has placed pressure on outfielder Chris Richard, who thrived during last season's second half as a No. 6 or No. 7 hitter but has been exposed at No. 3 since the loss of first baseman David Segui to chronic knee pain.

"At this stage of his career, he's not a 3-hole hitter," said Hargrove, adding that Segui's presence "allows you to move Chris to 6 or 7, which is what he is right now. A 6 or 7 is still a good hitter. But [Segui] allows you to move a player like Chris to a spot in the lineup that allows him to be more consistently successful.

"I'm not saying at some point he won't be a 3-hole hitter. But right now he's not."

Richard's eighth-inning double brought him his sixth and seventh RBIs of the season against left-handed pitching and helped improve what ended as a 2-for-13 series.

The Orioles entered yesterday hitting just .167 with two home runs in their past 11 games. Only Brady Anderson and Melvin Mora had homered in the previous 330 at-bats. A's left-hander Barry Zito only extended the Orioles' struggles Tuesday night by allowing two hits through six innings. The run he yielded was unearned.

Jason Johnson (10-11) suffered Tuesday's loss after surrendering a first-inning three-run homer to Chavez. The Oakland third baseman raked the Orioles for five home runs in five games beginning Aug. 28. The loss marked the 11th straight game in which the Orioles scored four runs or fewer.

Oakland salutes Ripken

The A's became the latest organization to fete Cal Ripken as the Iron Man's farewell lap around the league nears its completion.

The pre-game ceremony included words from A's officials and Ripken, a proclamation by Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown that designated yesterday Cal Ripken Day and a donation to the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation. During the game, video tributes from various A's were played. Among them was ex-Orioles catcher Greg Myers, who praised Ripken for his class and professionalism.

Still bothered by back and shoulder stiffness, Ripken again served as designated hitter. He has not played third base since last Thursday's 15-0 beating against the A's, when he hyperextended his back on an eighth-inning dive. Ripken went 0-for-4 yesterday, leaving him in a 9-for-52 skid.

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