Orioles draw blank again in 6-0 defeat

O's drop first three games of series, scoring one run against A's solid pitching

Hargrove: `We'll come out of this'

Zito surrenders three hits in picking up 12th victory

Driskill lasts 5 1/3 innings

July 14, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Anyone predicting back in February, as the Orioles gathered in Florida for spring training and the difficult task of separating themselves from fourth place, that they would take the field five months later with Jose Leon at first base and Luis Lopez as the designated hitter, move to the head of the class. Or head to the nearest casino and bet big.

Facing 11-game winner Barry Zito last night, the Orioles broke out their latest right-handed lineup, which now includes Lopez after optioning Brian Roberts to the minors. There must be better ways to deal with Zito and an offense that's stuck in neutral, but it's not as though manager Mike Hargrove has many choices.

Leon got the Orioles' first hit off Zito, on a ball that didn't leave the infield, and later reached on an error, while Lopez went 1-for-4 in his first swings with the club. But the Orioles went a little deeper into the season's second half without a victory, falling to the Oakland Athletics, 6-0, before 36,100 at Camden Yards.

The Orioles are 0-3 since the break and 42-46 overall, the furthest they have been from .500 since June 22. They've scored one run in this series, none off the Athletics' starters in 21 innings, and have lost more than two straight for the first time since May 11-15.

"I don't know that I'd call it a hitting slump," said Hargrove, whose team had three hits. "To me, a slump has to last longer than two or three days."

It could go on forever if Oakland provided the opposition every night.

Having already been dissed by Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Zito, the Orioles must hope for a reprieve today against Cory Lidle, who's 2-7 with a 5.30 ERA. Maybe he'll provide a more accurate assessment of what has been troubling the Orioles. Of whether the fault mainly lies in the Athletics' rotation.

"Anytime you're not swinging the bats the way you can, it's not good to be playing anybody," Hargrove said. "The reason the A's are good right now, and the reason they were good last year and got as hot as they did, was because of their starting pitching.

"They've got good position players, too. A number of their players, any team in baseball would love to have them. But one of the major strengths they have is their starting pitching. You'd be hard pressed to find a better staff."

Or a team more confounded by it.

The Orioles had two infield hits off Zito through four innings, and a 1-0 deficit appeared much larger. Oakland grabbed the lead against Travis Driskill in the third inning on a leadoff double by rookie Mark Ellis - the eighth time he reached base in 12 plate appearances - and a single by Scott Hatteberg. The ball took one hop off the mound and scooted under Driskill's glove before going into center field.

The game moved out of the Orioles' reach in the fifth when Miguel Tejada crushed a three-run homer after Ellis beat out an infield single. It was the 13th homer allowed by Driskill (6-2) in 65 innings.

"Plain and simple, I lost my concentration and got beat," Driskill said.

Gone after 5 1/3 innings, Driskill turned in his second-shortest outing of the year. He was charged with five runs, the last scoring on a wild pitch by Rick Bauer, while losing for the second time in three starts, but it wasn't exactly a fair fight.

On the rare occasion when the Orioles touched Zito (12-3), it was more of a love tap. That's been true of most clubs this season, with Zito losing only once since April 30.

The Orioles were patient against him, trying to work deep into counts rather than hacking away early to avoid falling behind. In one instance when they swung at the first pitch, Mike Bordick flied to the edge of the warning track in left field with two runners on base and Oakland ahead 4-0 in the fifth inning.

"Their pitching's awfully good, and we haven't swung the bats well for three games," Hargrove said. "Some of it is their pitchers and some is that we're getting in good counts and swinging at bad pitches, trying to make too many things happen.

"We'll come out of this, but we've got to weather it and work hard to get out of it."

The Orioles loaded the bases in the fifth without getting a hit, using two walks and an error by third baseman Eric Chavez. Representing the tying run with two outs, Melvin Mora flied out to shallow center.

Hargrove continues to wait for his team to start delivering in the clutch. The Orioles were 1-for-15 with runners on base during Friday's 1-0 loss, further magnifying Jeff Conine's absence from the lineup.

After projecting on Thursday that Conine could remain inactive for three or four more days because of a strained right hamstring, Hargrove said, "It may be longer than that."

As for a hitting slump that's also growing in length, Hargrove said, "There's no secret remedy. There's no magic potion. There's no spell you call a witch doctor in for. Baseball's a game of cycles. The trick is keeping the good cycles going longer than the bad ones. For three games, we haven't swung the bats well. It's not the end of the world."

Orioles today

Opponent:Oakland Athletics

Site:Camden Yards

Time:1:35 p.m.

TV/Radio:Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters:Athletics' Cory Lidle (2-7, 5.30) vs. Orioles' Sidney Ponson (3-4, 4.14)

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