Are O's Over Hill?

Starter's Latest Poor Outing Might Cost Him His Roster Spot

July 22, 2009|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

NEW YORK - -Rich Hill stood on the mound and stared toward the dugout, his shoulders slumped and his eyes fixed on approaching Orioles manager Dave Trembley. In an exercise that is becoming all too familiar in the early innings, Hill handed the ball to Trembley, unsure whether he'll ever get it back while wearing an Orioles uniform.

"The writing is on the wall," Hill said. "It's not very difficult to see when you're going out there and not putting up good numbers."

The Orioles have exercised extreme patience with the enigmatic left-hander, but his latest outing might finally be the one that costs him both his rotation and roster spots. In the Orioles' 6-4 loss to the New York Yankees on Tuesday, Hill allowed five runs in three-plus innings, a performance that the normally positive pitcher labeled "terrible."

"We would have come out on top, I believe, if I had pitched better," Hill said. "I've been given a great opportunity here in Baltimore, and I think that times are maybe getting a little bit slim here. I don't know, but if it is, then it is. I'll go out there and leave it on the field every time I do pitch. Unfortunately, things are too up and down. We've got to find some consistency."

Before an announced 45,589 at Yankee Stadium, where the Orioles (41-52) haven't won in five tries, Hill allowed three hits, including a two-run homer to Robinson Cano on his last pitch. He walked four, two leading off an inning and three of them coming around to score.

In 12 starts this season, Hill, who amazingly has a 3-3 record, hasn't completed five innings in six of them. His ERA stands at 7.64, more than a full run higher than that of rookie Jason Berken, whose rotation spot has been the one most have ticketed for top pitching prospect Chris Tillman. But it appears that Hill is on even rockier ground.

"I would say he's had a tremendous opportunity here and has been extended every measure of patience by all of us," Trembley said. "I wish it were better. I have to look at the situation for what it is and see what we can do to make it better."

Berken will take the mound this afternoon, looking to avoid another three-game sweep at the hands of the surging Yankees, who have won five straight, including six in a row against the Orioles, and taken over sole possession of first in the American League East.

With their latest loss, the fourth in five games after the All-Star break despite out-hitting their opponent in each of them, the Orioles are back at a season-worst-tying 11 games under .500. They are just 2-24 in their past 26 road games in AL East ballparks, including 1-13 this season.

"Certainly, it gets frustrating," said second baseman Brian Roberts, who combined with Nick Markakis for six of the Orioles' nine hits. "We want wins. That's the bottom line. You got to win. We've been in a lot of close games, a lot of one- and two-run games. We just haven't been able to win enough of them."

The Orioles walked a total of eight batters Tuesday, half of them scoring. They also didn't exactly overwhelm Yankees starter Sergio Mitre, who allowed three earned runs in 5 2/3 innings in his first big league appearance since Sept. 15, 2007.

Melvin Mora's two-run single in the sixth cut the Orioles' deficit to 6-4, but they managed just one hit the rest of the way against the Yankees' bullpen, backed by Mariano Rivera, who pitched a perfect ninth for his 27th save.

"That's not the story of the game," Trembley said. "The story of the game is walks. ... You have to pitch with conviction to win, and early on we didn't do that."

Hill's problems could have been encapsulated in one at-bat - the one-out walk he issued to Yankees No. 9 hitter Cody Ransom with one out in the third inning. Hill fell behind 3-0 before missing badly with a 3-2 curveball. It was an interesting pitch selection to a hitter who entered the game with a .176 average and no home runs.

"I saw a lot of pitches that were below-average," Trembley said. "We thought coming back from the break and [with] some time off that he would pitch better and he would pitch down with his fastball, that there would be a lot more life on his pitches."

ORIOLES @YANKEES

Today, 1:05 p.m.

TV: MASN HD

Radio: 105.7 FM

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