First week isn't a hit with silent O's batters

Over-eager, they have 3 runs since opener

April 07, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Bats are being slammed to the ground, helmets flung in frustration. The loudest contact being made by the Orioles' hitters so far comes when their equipment meets the turf.

The team batting average stood at .162 after yesterday's 4-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards. Only three runs and 16 hits have been accumulated over the past 36 innings since Opening Day. If this seems strangely familiar, it's because the Orioles closed the 2001 season in the same quiet manner.

More hushed tones fell over a chilled crowd yesterday. The Orioles managed one hit in six innings - a Jay Gibbons homer leading off the third - against junkballer Frank Castillo. Gibbons is featured in a commercial this season where he's shattering windows on the warehouse during batting practice. Castillo's best fastball couldn't do that.

The Orioles finished with four hits, including a two-out double by Jeff Conine in the ninth that left fielder Manny Ramirez should have caught if he hadn't slowed up near the fence. And another solid pitching effort, this one from No. 1 starter Scott Erickson, had gone to waste.

Opponents have noted a tendency for certain Orioles hitters to be overly aggressive at the plate. The first team to face them, the New York Yankees, believed they could capitalize on it, and Boston's Derek Lowe fed them a steady diet of sinkers Friday night while posting seven hitless innings.

The thinking is simple: Keep the ball around the plate but don't give them anything too good to hit.

"We talked about it," Lowe said. "The first three games against New York they were very aggressive, and we tried to take advantage of that."

"We're human," said Melvin Mora, whose .308 average leads the club despite going 0-for-3 yesterday. "I'm glad it's happening in the beginning. I think we're going to be fine. Our pitching has been real good. We just have to do more to support them. Everything's going to turn around sooner or later."

When you're in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox, it better be sooner.

"I think guys want to swing their way out of trouble," said shortstop Mike Bordick. "From a team side of it, you need to get guys on base. Then you can be more aggressive - hit and run, bunt, put more pressure on them."

"We've got good hitters in our lineup and a tremendous hitting instructor in Terry Crowley," manager Mike Hargrove said. "We'll continue to be patient and work our way through this thing. The worst thing we can do is start trying to do things differently or go outside of what it is we can do as hitters and start trying to make things happen. You can't force it."

Crowley disputes the notion that the Orioles are pressing, but concedes there are players who are trying "a little too hard to make things happen." A game-time temperature of 46 degrees, the latest big chill to sweep through the city, isn't helping, either.

"The conditions right now are not real favorable for hitting. It's cold and windy," Crowley said. "We might be trying to hit some balls a little too hard that really aren't meant to be long balls. But the effort is great. The results will get better."

"I feel like we've got some hitters who are overanxious at the plate," Hargrove said. "We're getting into some good counts and hitting some balls hard, but the longer something like this goes on, the more anxious hitters will become trying to pick everybody up."

Wasn't that the case last season? The Orioles finished at the bottom of the American League with a .248 average and were shut out 14 times. They were held to three runs or fewer 68 times. It has already happened to them the past four games since two monstrous swings on Opening Day - producing a grand slam by Tony Batista and a three-run double by Mora - aided a 10-3 victory over the Yankees.

Conine, last year's Most Valuable Oriole, is batting .111 with no RBIs. Leadoff hitter Jerry Hairston has followed a torrid spring with an .095 start. Bordick (.133), Chris Singleton (.100), Batista (.176), Geronimo Gil (.182) and David Segui (.190) also are below .200.

With Mora forced into everyday duty while Marty Cordova remains on the disabled list until Friday, the bench doesn't offer much punch. And the schedule, with the Yankees and Red Sox in town, hasn't offered much relief.

"Everything is magnified at the beginning of the year," Crowley said. "If you hit a rough spot in the middle of the year, it's not as noticeable as it is right now. Things will get progressively better before long."

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