Buried In The Bronx

O's Woes Continue As Berken Drops 8th Straight Start, N.y. Gets Sweep

July 23, 2009|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

NEW YORK - -During batting practice before Monday's series opener at Yankee Stadium, Orioles manager Dave Trembley walked to the outfield to deliver a message to struggling starters Rich Hill and Jason Berken.

He reminded them of the extended opportunities they've had, ones that probably would not have been afforded elsewhere. He told them to stop over-thinking things and get back to what had gotten them into the big leagues in the first place. There were no threats made, but the situation should have been perfectly clear: If Hill and Berken didn't start pitching better, changes would be made.

The message went unheeded over the past two days, and now the Orioles are left to figure out the next move in a season that is unraveling before their eyes. A day after Hill lasted just three-plus innings in a performance that even he described as terrible, Berken surrendered four runs in the first inning of the Orioles' eventual 6-4 loss to the New York Yankees in front of an announced 47,134 on a picturesque Wednesday afternoon.

"Today what we needed to do was score early and put zeros on the board," Trembley said. "When they come out and get the four runs, it kind of takes the wind out of your sails. You can only do so much."

Shut down for the first six innings by A.J. Burnett, the Orioles (41-53) scored twice in the seventh inning and twice more in the ninth, in which Adam Jones and Nick Markakis connected for back-to-back homers off Brian Bruney. But all that did was bring Mariano Rivera into the game, and the future Hall of Famer struck out the slumping Aubrey Huff to finish the Yankees' second three-game home sweep of the Orioles this season.

The Orioles, who are a season-worst 12 games under .500, have lost nine straight games in the Bronx. In the first series in late May, the Orioles were outscored 27-9. Over the past three days, they lost by a total of five runs, little consolation for a team that appears to be starting its annual second-half slide. The Yankees have won six straight games.

"We're competing," said Jones, who tied a career high with four hits. "It's always that one thing, that one inning, that one base-running mistake, the one defensive mistake. It's just that one thing that sets us back a little bit. You have to keep playing. That's why there are 162 [games]. Just keep fighting."

Jones scoffed at the notion that the Orioles could become demoralized, saying: "That's like saying that nobody really cares. We're out here competing every single day. Things just don't happen our way."

That's especially true away from Camden Yards. The Orioles are 15-32 on the road and 1-14 this year in American League East ballparks. They've won just two of their past 27 road games against teams in their division, and now head to Fenway Park, where they've won just six of their past 31 games.

Since the All-Star break, the Orioles are 1-5, and things don't figure to get much better until they can find some starting pitchers to keep them in games and give them a chance to win. Hill and Berken don't appear to be capable of that, at least not with the way they're currently pitching.

Hill has a 7.64 ERA and has failed to complete five innings in half of his 12 starts. Berken sports a 6.55 ERA and has dropped eight straight decisions.

"Obviously, losing eight straight isn't fun, but for me, the biggest thing is just to try to find ways to get better, find ways to be more consistent," said Berken, who allowed the Yankees to bat around in the first, an inning extended when second baseman Brian Roberts couldn't come up with Robinson Cano's slow roller. "I think today was a step in the right direction. After that first inning, things went well. I wish my won-lost record was a lot better, but I think I need to focus on things that I need to do to get better."

As much as Berken struggled in the first - allowing hits to three of the first four hitters he faced, including a two-run single by Alex Rodriguez - he surrendered just one more run, on Jorge Posada's third-inning homer, over the next five innings. That alone might have been enough to get one more start. The Orioles appear poised to call up top pitching prospect Chris Tillman, who could make his major league debut as early as next week. But filling both Hill and Berken's rotation spots on a full-time basis could be problematic.

"We have what we have," Trembley said. "Until we make a change, we have the five guys in our rotation, and that's the way it is. I wish we could have pitched better, especially [Tuesday] night."


Orioles' decision on Hill could come Friday PG 5

Box score

Wednesday's game PG 4


Friday, 7:10 p.m.


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