Roberts' slump eases with single, sacrifice fly

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Pitcher Johnson makes big strides under Dunn's eye

April 21, 2008|By Roch Kubatko and Jeff Zrebiec | Roch Kubatko and Jeff Zrebiec,SUN REPORTERS

As long as the Orioles are winning - and they're still three games above .500 after yesterday's loss - second baseman Brian Roberts won't let his slump affect his outlook on the season. But it had become more of a burden until finally beginning to ease up a little yesterday.

Roberts was 1-for-23 before being credited with a single in the sixth inning on a blistering one-hopper that eluded New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. He also lined out to right field in the eighth, allowing Guillermo Quiroz to tag at third base and score the Orioles' only run.

"It's not fun when you're not playing up to your capabilities, but when your team is still winning, that certainly helps," said Roberts, whose average has fallen from .327 to .247 in the past six days.

"Even if you hit .330 for a season, you're going to go through a .250 stretch. The difference for me is I usually start off pretty well. If this was the middle of the season, we wouldn't be talking about it as much. But everybody is going to go through it."

Roberts tapped to the mound in the first inning and grounded out in the fourth before finally making solid contact against left-hander Andy Pettitte.

"It just seems like if you take pitches, you get in a hole. If you swing at the first pitch, you make an out," he said. "It's just one of those things where you try everything and nothing works out."

For the second straight day, Roberts met with hitting coach Terry Crowley to watch video.

"I don't think it's any one particular point," manager Dave Trembley said. "I just think you go through it and you work your way out of it. Brian Roberts is one of the premier leadoff hitters in baseball. If this is his slump, get it out of the way early. We've been able to pick him up as a team."

Making strides

Of all the adjustments that Jim Johnson made over the winter, one of the most important was lengthening his stride toward home plate. It's been a key reason he has held opponents scoreless over 8 2/3 innings.

"I think that helps me command my pitches a lot better," he said. "Before, I was a little bit short and trying to get too much of an angle. That takes away from the command aspect."

Bullpen coach Alan Dunn grew more impressed by Johnson each time the right-hander threw in spring training. He noted that Johnson needed to tighten his breaking ball and refine his delivery - instructions that were passed along to Johnson and minor league pitching coordinator Dave Schmidt.

"We felt like he was a guy who was going to help us sometime during the year," Dunn said. "Fortunately, he was able to come up here and do that very quickly."

Back in Seattle

For the first time since being traded in February, center fielder Adam Jones and closer George Sherrill will return to Seattle when the Orioles begin a three-game series against the Mariners tomorrow.

"They may not even remember who I am," Sherrill said, smiling, "but I think it will be a pretty decent reception."

Jones said he's looking forward to seeing his old teammates, but he won't become sentimental.

"I wasn't there long enough to do anything," he said. "I'm sure people will say, `welcome back,' but I'm not expecting anything drastic. I'm on the opposing team now, so it doesn't really matter."

Starter shuffle

The Orioles adjusted their rotation for the Seattle series, bumping back Adam Loewen from tomorrow to Thursday. Jeremy Guthrie will oppose Felix Hernandez in the opener, with Daniel Cabrera moving up a day to pitch Wednesday.

Trembley is trying to keep Guthrie and Cabrera on regular rest, but the move also allows Loewen to have a second bullpen session.

"Hopefully, that might help with his command of his fastball," Trembley said. "That's the thing that we're trying to improve."

Around the horn

New Ravens coach John Harbaugh threw out the ceremonial first pitch yesterday. Assistant head coach-defensive coordinator Rex Ryan caught the ball wearing a Cal Ripken jersey. ... Alex Rodriguez left the game in the sixth inning with a strained right quadriceps.

roch.kubatko@baltsun.com jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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