On the Orioles

ROCH AROUND THE CLOCK

Hits, misses

Slumping offense must come around to support young O's pitching staff

April 30, 2008|By ROCH KUBATKO

In need of a starting pitcher after Adam Loewen went on the disabled list and strong rains punched more holes in their rotation, the Orioles reached into their farm system and plucked left-hander Garrett Olson, who started last night in the series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays.

They already had snatched Olson's teammate at Triple-A Norfolk, Jim Johnson, when deciding to protect the bullpen this month by going with a 13-man staff. The options were plentiful.

Radhames Liz is waiting for his next chance after striking out 10 batters over seven innings in Thursday's start with the Tides. So is Hayden Penn, who is healthy again and determined to resurrect a once-promising career. Patience and a philosophy built around stockpiling young pitching is beginning to pay dividends. The competition in the arms race has become fierce.

Unfortunately, it does nothing for the Orioles' lineup, which has struggled to produce runs and deliver in the clutch consistently. Fixing that problem isn't as simple as raiding Norfolk's roster.

For simplicity, it ranks somewhere between solving the U.S. trade deficit and keeping Lindsay Lohan sober.

Before last night, the Orioles were batting .250 as a team. They had one regular, Luke Scott, with an average above .300. Their cleanup hitter, Kevin Millar, was batting .219. Their starting catcher, Ramon Hernandez, carried a .189 average that fit neatly in his breast pocket. Brian Roberts (.267), Adam Jones (.258), Melvin Mora (.245), Aubrey Huff (.244) and Luis Hernandez (.222) also did their share of scuffling over the season's first month.

Even before the Orioles returned to a three-man bench last night after optioning shortstop Brandon Fahey to Norfolk, manager Dave Trembley didn't have many options when trying to shake his club out of its collective slump. Fahey was hitting .200. Eider Torres isn't the type of player you plug into the middle of a lineup. Neither is veteran Jay Payton, though his .273 average and two home runs made him the bench's lumber king.

The Orioles are waiting for prospects Scott Moore and Mike Costanzo to go on a tear at Norfolk. Moore went 3-for-3 with a home run Monday, but even with that offensive outburst, he was hitting .188 through 13 games. Costanzo was hitting .198, with 32 strikeouts in 81 at-bats. At this point, the most viable solution might be 29-year-old Oscar Salazar, who was hitting .394 against left-handed pitching and led all Orioles minor leaguers with 19 RBIs. He leads the Tides in home runs (three) and is tied for the team lead in hits (26) and doubles (seven).

One level down from Norfolk, elite hitting prospect Nolan Reimold was batting .235 with two homers in 23 games at Double-A Bowie.

And don't bother thinking about last year's top draft pick, catcher Matt Wieters. He looks like Johnny Bench right now at Single-A Frederick. Terrific. He may as well be Shirley Booth, because either way, he's not coming to Baltimore.

It's up to the current Orioles to get hot. Or to players such as Moore and Costanzo to put up a legitimate fight for the chance to come here by taking their best swings. Otherwise, all the good young pitching on earth won't keep this team anywhere near first place.

roch.kubatko@baltsun.com

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