Orioles upbeat despite skid

Finale against Indians gets rained out as team returns home from 1-4 trip

Hairston: `We don't get down'

Hargrove points to Lopez, Julio as pleasant surprises

May 17, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND - Even with his team stuck in a four-game losing streak, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove had several positive things to say yesterday when he offered an overall evaluation of the team's progress through the season's first quarter.

The Orioles were poised to play the Cleveland Indians in their 40th game of the season, but the game was rained out with a makeup date still to be determined.

So the Orioles returned home with a 1-4 record on this road trip, which started with two losses in three games at Tampa Bay, followed by two losses against the Indians.

It has been a demoralizing stretch, considering three of the past four losses have been decided after the seventh inning, but Hargrove has remained upbeat.

In fact, in perhaps his most telling comments yesterday, he compared this team favorably to any of the previous teams he has managed in 12 seasons in the big leagues.

"I enjoyed every team I had over here with the Indians, and some I enjoyed more than others," Hargrove said. "But I don't know if there was a team I enjoyed any more than this one right here.

"As I had over there [with the Indians], there's some good veterans here, there's some good young players. They all listen to what we as coaches have to say to them. They stay focused, and they don't like to get beat."

Hargrove said he learned a lot about this club walking through the clubhouse Tuesday night, after the Indians scored four ninth-inning runs, all with two outs, to pull off a stunning 6-5 victory.

The Orioles were hurting afterward, and Hargrove said he could see it in his players' eyes. And yet, when it was time to play again Wednesday, the Orioles battled Indians ace Bartolo Colon to a 1-1 tie until Cleveland pulled ahead with two runs in the eighth inning.

"One thing about this team is we don't get down," said second baseman Jerry Hairston.

After starting the season 4-11, the Orioles won 14 of their next 20 games before going on this four-game slide. At 18-21, they are still in third place in the American League East.

"I think this ballclub is in a lot better position right now than any of the so-called experts would have given us credit for in spring training," Hargrove said. "We obviously have needs - we knew that coming in - but we've seen good things on the whole out of our young people."

Hargrove singled out starting pitcher Rodrigo Lopez and closer Jorge Julio as his two most pleasant surprises. Lopez is only the third rookie in Orioles history to start a season 5-0, and his 2.01 ERA is lowest in the AL.

Julio's past two outings were both crushing blown saves that ended with the other team celebrating a walk-off home run, but at age 23, he is still the team's undisputed closer with some pretty impressive numbers: seven saves in 10 opportunities, a 2.70 ERA, 14 strikeouts and six walks in 20 innings.

"I feel real good about where we're at, and I feel good about where we're going," Hargrove said.

The rainout allowed the Orioles to skip Sean Douglass, who was tentatively scheduled to pitch Saturday's game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The Orioles will now use Calvin Maduro, Sidney Ponson and Scott Erickson in that series.

Last night's game could be rescheduled for Aug. 12.

By the end of the month, the Orioles hope to have Jason Johnson back in the rotation. He chipped a bone in the middle finger of his pitching hand on April 25.

"I'm not trying to paint a rosy picture," he added. "We've got a long, difficult road ahead of us. There are going to be small bumps and big bumps in that road, and we just need to stay focused and continue to do what we've done."

Orioles tonight

Opponent:Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site:Camden Yards

Time:7:05

TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Devil Rays' Tanyon Sturtze (0-4, 5.15) vs. Orioles' Calvin Maduro (2-3, 4.35)

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