Tested Maduro gets few A's, loses

His wobbly 4 2/3 innings in 5-2 loss put spot in O's rotation in question

May 29, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Exhibiting an impressive range of motion in his neck, Orioles pitcher Calvin Maduro was able to clearly read the signs from his catcher last night while also looking over his shoulder. It appears his next trick will be disappearing from the rotation.

Maduro's security among the starters seemed to hinge on his results against the Oakland Athletics, and he raised more doubts about his longevity by lasting only 4 2/3 innings in a 5-2 loss at Camden Yards.

The Orioles (22-27) fell five games below .500 for the first time since April 25, when they were 8-13. A loss tonight would drop them six under for the sixth time this year.

Though his velocity increased over previous outings, Maduro surrendered two-run homers to Eric Chavez and Adam Piatt in the second inning and was booed by a crowd of 24,825. Walks preceded both homers, which came on a fastball to Chavez and curveball to Piatt and gave Oakland a 4-0 lead.

A two-out double by Terrence Long in the fifth scored Miguel Tejada and chased Maduro from the game. Making his 10th start since coming off the disabled list, Maduro allowed five runs and six hits, and walked four. He's posted only one victory since April 14, and if the right-hander makes Sunday's start, it most likely will be his last.

Surrounded by reporters in the Orioles' dugout before the game, manager Mike Hargrove sounded a tone that, if not ominous, couldn't be classified as soothing. "This is an important start for Calvin," he said. "We need to see Calvin go out and pitch well, throw strikes, command his pitches and give us a good ballgame."

Given the chance to elaborate after the game, Hargrove said, "It was important. That's about as far as I need to go right now. We needed to see Calvin go out and not necessarily dominate but be able to hold this team down and pitch well. I'm not sure he did that."

The Athletics, winners of four in a row, already had roughed up Maduro (2-5) last Wednesday. They collected six runs and 10 hits in only four innings, and worked him for 95 pitches - three fewer than he delivered last night.

Travis Driskill will receive another start Saturday after handcuffing the Seattle Mariners for six innings last weekend. The pitcher he replaced in the rotation, Jason Johnson, will make his second injury rehab start later this week while drawing closer to a return. And the bullpen continues to hold two rookies, Sean Douglass and Rick Bauer, who don't project as relievers.

The heat Maduro felt last night, compounded by poor location and an inability to keep his changeup down, had nothing to do with the 85-degree temperature.

"We've got a plan in mind and we'll implement that plan. But until we do and make a final decision, it's a little premature for me to talk about it," Hargrove said. "We obviously have people coming back and decisions have to be made."

Maduro got a late start this season because of forearm stiffness. Asked if he's healthy - his fastball lost steam after the third inning - he said, "In my mind I am. I want to be healthy, but I probably have a little bit to go."

Hargrove alluded to other distractions, on a personal level, that had taken away some of Maduro's focus. "He's resolved that," Hargrove said, "but he hasn't commanded his pitches like he did last year, for whatever reason."

Said Maduro: "The first week was kind of hard and I had to work through it. I guess I'm pretty much over it now and I have to go back to work and get my game right. I can't blame the problem I had - it's not a problem, it's something good that happened - on that.

"I go out there every time and give it my best. I don't know what's going to happen. I still would be happy to start if they give me the opportunity, but it's not up to me."

The only positive development in his last appearance was a fastball that stayed around 88-89 mph, compared with the 84-85 range of previous starts. Maduro hit 91 twice last night while facing Tejada in the first inning and consistently reached 89 in the early innings.

Chavez tore into an 87-mph fastball for his 11th career homer against the Orioles in 123 at-bats. Piatt's two-run shot, which came after a four-pitch walk to Long, was magnified when the Orioles scored twice in the second.

Oakland committed two errors in the inning, which also included a run-scoring single by Marty Cordova and sacrifice fly by Melvin Mora with the bases loaded. Cordova had gone 0-for-12 with six strikeouts in Seattle and was battling a 10-for-57 slump in his last 15 games since his average peaked at .367 on May 5.

They were the last Orioles hitters to deliver in the clutch. The club went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position and wasted 3 1/3 scoreless innings from reliever Willis Roberts, who tossed four shutout innings in his previous outing.

Oakland starter Mark Mulder (3-4) won for the first time since April 6 by limiting the Orioles to one earned run in six innings.

On the disabled list last month with a strained forearm, Mulder reached 92 mph last night, only slightly behind last season, when he won 21 games and finished second to Roger Clemens in the Cy Young voting.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Oakland Athletics

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7:05 TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM) Starters: Athletics' Erik Hiljus (3-3, 5.91) vs. Orioles' Sidney Ponson (3-3, 4.48)

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