Orioles notebook

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Red Sox's steep slope sends O's ERA on an uphill climb

Adjusting to mound stops pitching staff's low-run roll

it's rough spring for Foster

March 19, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

FORT MYERS, Fla. - The Orioles' pitching staff has been on a major roll the past couple of weeks, but the club ran into a speed bump at City of Palms Park yesterday.

Rookie Erik Bedard and three relievers all struggled to get acclimated to a steep pitching mound, and the result was an unattractive 8-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox.

The Orioles had won nine of their previous 10 games and whittled the team ERA to an impressive 3.17, but every pitcher except prospective closer Jorge Julio had trouble adjusting to the slope.

"Everything was up," said a clearly irritated manager Mike Hargrove.

Bedard, who had not given up a run in three previous appearances, allowed two runs on six hits over three innings. Minor-league free agent Rodrigo Lopez also was unscored upon before a three-inning stint in which he allowed four runs on six hits, including a home run by all-but-certain Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson.

Left-hander B.J. Ryan also struggled before Julio struck out two in a scoreless eighth inning.

Not coincidentally, each of the first three pitchers struggled most in his first inning on the steep mound. When the slope is too steep, it can cause a pitcher to alter his release point, generally bringing the ball up in the strike zone.

The rocky performance raised the Orioles' team ERA to 3.45, still good enough to rank third among the 30 major-league clubs.

Foster's frustration

Kris Foster's spring can be defined by Saturday's outing in Jupiter, Fla. He allowed a 10th-inning run to the St. Louis Cardinals, ending the Orioles' eight-game winning streak, and watches his ERA drop from 40.50 to 38.63.

Once in the running for a setup job with the Orioles, Foster is more likely to begin the season at Triple-A Rochester after allowing 10 runs and 13 hits in 2 1/3 innings. Opponents are batting .684 against him in three appearances.

One run didn't seem so bad, especially when the rally began with an infield hit on a questionable call at first base.

"It's frustrating because I haven't thrown bad," he said. "I haven't given up too many hard hits, just balls that are hit right where they need to hit them. I've kept the ball down. I've been throwing strikes and that's all I care about. The results will come once I get everything together."

Foster still is recovering from a sprained right ankle that occurred in his first outing. Backpedaling as the last out was recorded, Foster rolled his ankle on the edge of the infield grass and didn't pitch for almost two weeks.

He's also learning a new pitch, a curveball to go with his slider, changeup and upper-90s fastball, and a "quieter" delivery that's supposed to reduce the stress on his arm and shoulder.

Rangers rumors

Orioles vice president for baseball operations Syd Thrift spoke by telephone with Texas Rangers GM John Hart yesterday, but it seems unlikely that the two teams can match up to make a deal.

Hart is believed to be interested in either Sidney Ponson or Jason Johnson. The Orioles probably wouldn't part with one of their top three starting pitchers unless they could get an outstanding young player in return.

The Rangers player that currently fits that description is highly regarded third base prospect Hank Blalock, but he appears to be winning the regular job at third base and is not available.

The Orioles would love to talk the Rangers out of third baseman Mark Teixeira, who played high school baseball at Mount St. Joseph in Baltimore, but baseball rules prohibit a team from trading a draft choice until one year after the draft date, and the Rangers wouldn't figure to deal him anyway.

Conine update

Club officials still are working on a contract extension for first baseman/outfielder Jeff Conine. Thrift said yesterday that a deal with Conine and agent Michael Watkins is "close," but there still are a few details to be worked out before the deal can be finalized.

Sun staff writer Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.

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