|News Archives: April 1999|
After the disaster on Thursday when the Os were wiped out by the Kansas City Royals, the Orioles finally made a decision about the team. They released Heathcliff Slocumb, who had been terrible all year but sank to new depths with a 1-inning 7-run pounding by the Royals. Miller claimed he "wasn't blaming Slocumb," which is an awfully hollow assertion and small consolation to a player who has just been unceremoniously released. That's $1.1 million thrown down the tubes for nine innings of disastrous pitching. In a surprise move, the Orioles called up prospect Gabe Molina rather than Jason Johnson, who Ray Miller has been pushing for. Does this signal a loss of influence by Miller, or is there another reason for Os brass to choose Molina?
The Orioles then went out and played the Minnesota Twins on Friday, as Sidney Ponson was probably pitching for his job. And Sidney responded absolutely masterfully. He struggled in his first outing, but has been getting better and better since.
Dec. IP H R ER BB K L 2.2 4 5 5 3 2 ND 5 6 4 3 2 4 L 5.1 3 1 1 4 1 W 7 2 0 0 3 4Sidney's performance, combined with an increasingly rare offensive outburst by the Orioles, led to an victory for an Orioles starter not named Mussina for the first time in 1999. Harold Baines homered, BJ Surhoff had two doubles, and the Orioles managed 7 runs without the help of opposition errors. Seven runs and seven shutout innings equal a 7-1 victory. With this victory, the Orioles no longer have the worst record in baseball, as they pulled a half-game ahead of the Marlins.
If you're hoping that the release of Heathcliff Slocumb is the start of a
youth movement in Baltimore, well, we doubt it. But if it is, it will have to be
done without Darrin Blood, who still
hasn't recovered from offseason surgery. (Blood was the pitcher acquired when
the Orioles dumped Joe Carter in midseason.) If you're hoping that it's a sign
that Ray Miller is on his way out, Ken Rosenthal of the Sun points out that the
upcoming Cuba game is all that is keeping Ray Miller from being fired.
The Orioles play a Cuban All-Star team on Monday. Hopefully, some players will defect. If we're lucky, most of the team will. Cuba can have them. They can take Erickson, and Guzman, and Slocumb, and Conine, and the rest. Did we mention Slocumb? As for Thursday's game, if you missed it, consider yourself lucky. The Os fell behind 2-1 and 3-2 and caught up each time; each time after that, Scott Erickson handed the lead back to the Royals. He lasted 5.2 innings, but that's mostly because Ray Miller has a slow hook once a pitcher reaches 30 years old. And of course the offense was quiet as usual, scoring two of their five runs only after the game was already almost out-of-reach at 8-3. And in case it wasn't entirely out-of-reach, Ray Miller conceded the game by putting in Heathcliff Slocumb. Fans aren't showing up, and neither is the team, and the result was another embarassment, this time a 15-5 humiliation at the hands of the weak-hitting, low-budget Royals.
Once again, a veteran starter fails, but Ray Miller is more worried about how he can screw up a young player. He shrugs when asked about the awful outings by Erickson or Guzman, while speaking extensively about demoting Coppinger to the minors and Ponson to the bullpen. And he seems more excited about getting 35-year old Scott Kamieniecki back than he is about Sidney Ponson's successful outing last start. (Kamieniecki is scheduled to start the Cuba game.) You'd think a 5-16 team would be patient with younger players, but not when Miller is the manager. Heck, even though we were critical of the trade, we'd be happy to see Jason Johnson at this point, who's tearing up Rochester right now. At least he might have a future. We know Scott Kamieniecki does not, and it's unconscionable to be thinking of Kamieniecki as anything other than trade bait as soon as he proves himself healthy.
Ken Rosenthal of the Sun writes about how great an acquisition Mike Bordick has been. Suffice it to say that we disagree. Bordick symbolizes everything that is wrong with this team. A very nice, hard-working, blue-collar guy who never complains, never causes trouble, and is very professional. All those are wonderful personality traits to have. Combine them with top talent, and you have a great player. Combine them with little natural ability, and you have an overpaid player blocking talented hungry young players who could make the team exciting to watch. Again, we're not criticizing him as a person, but calling a player "hard-working" is like saying that a blind date "has a good personality." Just once we'd like to hear an Oriole described as "great" rather than "hard-working." But the Orioles are filled with "hard-working" players, from Bordick to Ripken to Surhoff to Conine.
You might be interested in this interview with Cal Ripken, as he talks about coping with the loss of his father. We're not the type to jump on the bandwagon of bashing "today's athletes" -- we're sure they're really no different than the athletes of the past -- but it's a refreshing change to read the thoughts of an articulate, thoughtful person like Cal Ripken instead of some grunts from a semi-literate player.
And finally, on a lighter note, this amusing story, as former Oriole Ray
Knight managed to get himself in trouble. If it were up to us,
he'd be arrested for impersonating a broadcaster for his work on ESPN, but this
will have to do.
We were trying to be optimistic, hoping that team meetings and ranting and raving would turn the Orioles around. But apparently a one-game winning streak was all the team could muster. Tuesday's victory combined solid starting pitching with a strong offensive showing. Wednesday's loss was more of the usual -- bad starting pitching and no offense. Juan Guzman keeps alternating good and bad starts, and today was his turn for a bad start. And Jose Rosado completely shut down Baltimore's offense, leading to another blowout loss, this time 8-2 to the Royals. At this point it's not really clear whether the Orioles can beat anybody.
Unfortunately, the good play of Willis Otanez, and the expected callup of Cal
Pickering in the near future, still take a back seat in national
publications to discussions about the future of Cal Ripken and Ray Miller.
While those are important stories, they're about the past. Stories about Otanez
and Pickering are about the future, and hopefully stories about the Orioles will
be focusing on their future soon. But not if Ray Miller has anything to say
about it; he's still talking about how to demote Sidney Ponson to the bullpen.
Two days after the Orioles were utterly humiliated by one of those cheap young teams that all the "experts" insist can't contend with the big spending teams like the Orioles, a day after the Orioles held a team meeting in an attempt to clear the air, they had to go out and play another game. We don't know whether the team meeting had any effect, but the Orioles played well for a change. They had a good outing from a starter, as Mussina lasted seven innings (because he pitched well, not just because Ray Miller lets his veterans pitch a lot no matter what) and even scored some runs. It added up to an 8-4 victory over the Royals. Is it a turnaround after Miller's explosion, or merely a blip on the downward slope? Let's wait and see.
The Ugly: We'll be nice for today and not list anything. When the team has a good win, it's time for us to be quiet and happy.
Ray Miller's fate is now uncertain. Ken Rosenthal of the Sun points out what we've been saying: that it's time to cut the team's losses with Miller, and that Miller's tirade has given Peter Angelos whatever excuse he needed. On the other hand, alleged baseball guru Peter Gammons claims that Angelos isn't ready to fire Ray Miller. We just hope that Rosenthal is correct and -- as is often the case -- Gammons is too busy promoting himself as an insider to actually get his facts right.
The Orioles are preparing for the Cuba game on May 3rd, and some speculate that Angelos won't want to fire Miller until after that. But if the entire season is a bust for the Orioles, they at least want to ensure that nothing goes wrong at this game.
Oddity: Albert Belle has announced that he's going to be selling a breakfast cereal. Anybody who dares
try it, let us know how it tastes. Meanwhile, Roger Clemens failed to break Dave
McNally's AL record for consecutive wins, getting knocked out of his start early.
Sunday was Little League day. Before the game, Little Leaguers from around the region were given the chance to parade around the field and be recognized. Maybe they should have stayed on the field; they might be the only teams the Orioles can beat. The scoreboard operator had a bad day on Sunday, continually getting the batter wrong and the number of balls, strikes, and outs wrong. And he still had a better day than the Orioles. All you need to know about Sunday's game is this: the Orioles got 9 hits, 3 walks, two HBP, and benefitted from three Oakland errors. They scored 8 runs in the 7th inning to take a four run lead. They still lost.
They lost because they couldn't throw strikes. (And Ray Miller's supposed to be a great pitching coach?) They lost because they couldn't field. They lost because two of their few baserunners got picked off. (Isn't Miller supposed to stress fundamentals?) They lost because Miller's bullpen strategy is to keep churning through pitchers, hoping to find the least effective one each day. They lost because Miller's idea of creativity is deciding to put the other sock on first; he "knew" Tony Phillips would bunt because that's what he would have done in the same situation, so the thought that Phillips might do something different -- like swing away -- never entered his mind. Whatever the reasons, Miller admits he has no explanations, but rather than accepting responsibility, he shifts the blame to the players for the 11-10 loss. He's understandably frustrated, and in a short while, should be understandably unemployed.
Meanwhile, John Eisenberg of the Sun points out what we've been saying for a long time now: this isn't a slump, and the team just isn't that good. The team has a lot of problems, the kind that can't be solved by a clutch here or quality start there: the big one is age. Symptomatic of the problem? The team and the media are more preoccupied with 38-year old Cal Ripken's future than with 26-year old Willis Otanez's. Meanwhile, the As, who took 2 of 3 from the Os, started seven young players. Is there a lesson here?
And speaking of younger players, the good news is that Big Cal Pickering is coming
back from his shoulder injury; the MRI showed no damage. The bad news?
Organizational confusion. Peter Angelos announced in SI that he won't call
Pickering up because his "baseball people" think Pickering needs a year in AAA.
(Why is Peter Angelos making the decision, anyway? Shouldn't it be Frank Wren or
Miller?) But now with the struggles on the club, it seems he'll be called up after all. Don't get us wrong; we
applaud the idea of calling him up. It's just further sign of disarray in
management, though. Say, where's Davey Johnson, anyway?
Scott Erickson got his wish to pitch on only 3-days rest, and while he pitched his best game of the season, the results were the same for the Orioles, who fell 3-0 to the Oakland Athletics. The loss was the 7th in the past 8 games for the 4-13 Orioles, who have yet to win on consecutive days this season. Saturday's game was more of the same for the Orioles, who continue their pattern of not scoring when they pitch well, and not pitching well when they score a lot. Anyways, on to...
On Sunday, 25-year old Rocky Coppinger will be recalled to the majors to start against the A's. It's been an interesting career thus
far for Coppinger, who had a 10-win rookie campaign in 1996, followed by 2 years
of battling injuries and managers. It's surprising that Coppinger actually got
another chance, given that the O's had traded for Jason Johnson in spring
training. In 3 starts for Rochester, Coppinger went 1-1 with a 3.57 ERA and
struck out 24 batters. He takes Doug Linton's spot in the rotation, while Linton
moves to long relief in the bullpen.
The streak is over. Finally. After a very long road trip -- a very long trip -- the Os returned home and found an opponent they could beat. Oakland, who the Orioles handled easily last year, kicked off the Os twelve game homestand. For a while, the game seemed like a typical Orioles' game this season -- they were shut down completely for four innings, and then after they did take leads, of 2-1 and 3-2, they immediately gave them back the next inning. Finally, though, the Orioles hit with runners on base, scoring four runs when players who hadn't been hitting, like Jeff Conine and Delino DeShields, broke the game open. Then Orosco and Timlin, though shaky, came through and the Orioles won, 7-4. Is it the start of a turnaround or just a trick to fool the optimists? We'll have to wait and see.
Cal Ripken's health hasn't improved, and he's getting advice from everybody. But in his first press conference since he went on the DL, he failed to clear up questions about his future.
Meanwhile, Fernando Tatis did one better than Chris Hoiles did last year.
Hoiles hit two grand slams in one game; Tatis hit
two in one inning versus the Dodgers.
Juan Nieves, Wilson Alvarez... Tony Saunders? Not quite. Almost. Every time you think it couldn't get more embarassing, it does. To get beaten by the Yankees or Blue Jays, maybe. To get beaten by the Devil Rays? To get swept by the Devil Rays? As far as we can tell, the Orioles are simply a plot by the players to prove that you really can't buy a playoff spot. (An extremely expensive plot.) Seriously, however, there are two possible interpretations of Thursday's game: the Orioles have quit on Ray Miller, or the Orioles just really aren't very good. (Our answer: both.) Sidney Ponson and Arthur Rhodes were brilliant, but the offense, which was missing Brady Anderson, Delino DeShields and Charles Johnson (in addition to Will Clark, of course) was execrable, and they were held to one hit in a humiliating 1-0 loss to the Devil Rays. The only hit was Mike Bordick's bloop single with two outs in the eighth inning.
The bad: take a guess
Ironically, the Devil Rays have spots on their roster for four young players the Orioles couldn't manage to find room for -- Danny Clyburn, David Lamb, Esteban Yan, and Aaron Ledesma (who's on the disabled list right now). We're not saying that all of these players are current or future stars -- they're not. But they can all contribute to a team. A team that can dominate the Orioles. And that's the point. It's not necessary to go out and spend millions on veterans to win games. And speaking of Clyburn and Lamb, we should point out that earlier rumors that David Lamb would be the player-to-be-named-later in the Danny Clyburn-Jason Johnson trade have been proven wrong. The Orioles instead sent Angel Bolivar Volquez to Tampa Bay. Bolivar is a 17-year old shortstop who was signed last season and has been in extended spring training in Sarasota.
Rocky Coppinger will be starting on Sunday, and the Orioles expect to get Scott Kamieniecki back soon, too. Ray Miller
has been mouthing all the positive statements about Kamieniecki's return, about
how well Kamieniecki has kept in shape. But Kamieniecki is 36 and has already
lost two of the past three seasons to injuries, so how optimistic should we be?
Now Coppinger, on the other hand, has been pitching very well at AAA, and we're
eager to see what he can do. Miller insists that this isn't just a one-shot deal.
The streak is over! Up until this point, the Orioles have won whenever Mussina has started, but have lost every other game. No more. That streak's history. Now they can't even win when Mussina starts. And the way they look now, we're not sure they'll ever win a game. They're following the same formula every time out there: starter gets pounded early, bullpen gives up a bunch more runs, and then the offense scores a bunch off the opposing team's bullpen long after the game is out-of-reach. The formula on Wednesday, on national television, added up to a 14-8 debacle.
It appears that the Orioles have finally decided on a replacement for Clark on the roster and for Linton in the rotation; they're going to call up Rocky Coppinger to start on Sunday. Coppinger has been dominant so far at Rochester, striking out 24 in just 17.2 innings of work, while allowing just 15 hits. We just hope he'll get a legitimate opportunity to show what he can do; it's not like he's taking a job away from a deserving player. Meanwhile, Scott Erickson is going to start on three days rest, as he has been whining about wanting to do for quite a while now.
Everyone else is weighing in on the Ray Miller issue, so we wanted to add our two cents, in this week's Bricks from the Warehouse.
Also note that Roger Clemens tied former Oriole Dave McNally's AL record for consecutive
wins, with 17, with a 4-2 victory over the Texas Rangers.
We at The Warehouse are often critical of sportswriters. But we have to admit that we are in awe of their ability to write the same story over and over again without being too repetitive. Frankly, only two weeks into the season, we're at a loss for how to write "The starter stunk, the offense stunk, and the Orioles lost" using varied wording so it doesn't look like we just cut-and-paste from a previous day's update. Just to clarify what happened in Tuesday's game: the starter stunk, the offense stunk, and the Orioles lost. Scott Erickson, who had pitched badly in his first two starts, actually had his worst outing of the season, not getting through two innings, the offense did nothing for six innings off young pitcher Julio Santana, and the Orioles lost, 5-3.
As expected, Cal Ripken and Will Clark have been placed on the disabled list. Clark is expected to miss a month, while Ripken's status is uncertain, as anybody with a bad back could attest to. And even an optimist and big Orioles fan like Tom Boswell of the Post concedes that Ripken has almost certainly lost it. The Orioles called up utility infielder Jesse Garcia to replace Ripken on the roster; they are expected to recall either Rocky Coppinger or Jason Johnson today to replace Clark. Whichever pitcher is called up will slide into the fifth spot in the rotation, bumping Doug Linton to the bullpen. Nothing is going right for the Orioles; in an opportunity perfect for Cal Pickering, he is unable to take advantage because (as noted yesterday) of his strained shoulder. This forces the Orioles to use .105-hitting Jeff Conine at first base and leaves them without a backup first baseman or platoon partner for Harold Baines.
We feel the need to emphasize this again. Ray Miller, down by two runs, pinch hits for Willis Otanez with Jeff Reboulet. We like Jeff Reboulet. He seems like a nice guy. He seems like an adequate utility infielder. He's also hitting sub-.200, and he has never hit well -- that is, after all, why he is just a utility infielder. You might pinch hit for the pitcher with Reboulet. But for Willis Otanez, one of the few people in the lineup not batting under .225? As for Johnson, he isn't hitting well -- but he's still hitting a lot better than Rich Amaral, and always has. These weren't righty/lefty issues; these were simply under-30/over-30 issues. Ray Miller doesn't trust any player under the age of 30. Miller is at a complete loss for how to deal with the situation; he's been reduced to calling team meetings and criticizing everyone. We have a suggestion, Ray: get your head out of your ass and use your best players. You're not going to win every game that way, but at least you'll have a chance.
Finally, the Os have announced that tickets to the May 3rd Cuba game at Camden
Yards will go on sale to the general public on Saturday the 24th.
Maybe if the Os put Outer Mongolia on the schedule, they'd snap their losing
|Will Clark is out indefinately with a fractured thumb... Will Big Calvin Pickering finally get his chance? Unfortunately probably not, because he has been suffering from a shoulder strain.|
Remember when we claimed last week (April 14th, to be precise) that it couldn't get any worse? We lied. It could. It has. The Orioles dropped 2 out of 3 games in each of their first three series, but they went one better in their fourth series of the year, getting swept by the Toronto Blue Jays. The Orioles, at 3-9, have now lost three straight, six of their last seven (and, obviously, nine of their last twelve), are tied with the Florida Marlins with the worst record in baseball, and are further out of first place than any other team in baseball.
On Sunday, the supposedly potent Orioles offense managed just three hits off rookie pitcher Roy Halladay, Juan Guzman was rocked early and often, and the Orioles rounded out an embarassing series with a 6-0 loss to the young Blue Jays. But at least nobody got hurt, right? Wrong. Dead wrong. Cal Ripken sat out again, and this time admitted it was his back. Meanwhile, the big story was that Will Clark broke his thumb, as with Delino DeShields before him. Lots of players break their hands when hit by pitches. But these are the Orioles; they get hurt fielding ground balls. Ideally, top prospect Calvin Pickering would be recalled from Rochester to take his place, but unfortunately, that's likely not an option, as he has been sidelined by a strained shoulder. Of course, even were Pickering healthy, the Orioles would likely find an excuse not to play him.
The Bad: where do we start?
Now it appears that for the first time in his career, Cal Ripken may actually be headed to the disabled list -- he is in Cleveland for a back exam now. Of course, he's likely to be joined by Will Clark, who has spent lots of time on the disabled list in recent years. Unfortunately, with all the injuries, we fear Ray Miller may have a built in excuse for his failures. When that happens, we just want you to keep in mind a few names: Tom Gordon, Nomar Garciaparra, Reggie Jefferson; Andy Pettitte, Darryl Strawberry, Scott Brosius. Those are key injuries suffered by the Red Sox and Yankees (Darryl, of course, also has his own personal problems). Are they struggling a little because of the injuries? Sure. That's why they're only 7-4 and 7-5, respectively. A far cry from the Orioles' 3-9 record.
Meanwhile, the Orioles appear to be in denial. GM Frank Wren is still talking
about how it's too early to make any decisions about this team. And
owner Peter Angelos is insisting he won't fire Ray Miller -- in our opinion,
because to do so would require admitting he made a mistake in hiring Miller.
We were wrong about the Orioles not having momentum; they do. It's just in the wrong direction -- straight to the bottom. The only surprise is that they've managed to win three games. As has happened almost every time Mike Mussina wasn't the starter, the Orioles gave up a lot of runs early, and the bullpen pitched badly late. Factor in a weak offense -- just seven hits, all singles, and a stupid caught stealing by Amaral, and it all adds up to a 7-4 loss to the Blue Jays. The game featured a potentially serious beanball exchange, but as it turns out, the only one who got hurt was the home plate umpire, who got hit when Doug Linton threw behind Carlos Delgado's back. Credit Albert Belle with not doing something stupid to get himself suspended when David Wells retaliated; Belle has often been accused of being a thoughtless thug, but he knows that the team needs him.
The good: we could tell you, but we'd have to be fiction writers. There wasn't any.
Meanwhile, while Scott Erickson complains publicly about his lack of work, Miller snipes back at him. This is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Ray Miller's tenure -- worse than his incredibly clueless tactical decisions or his infatuation with old players is his complete inability to handle individuals, whether they be rookies or veterans. He has insulted Armando Benitez, whined about Sidney Ponson, fought with Roberto Alomar, and can't get along with Scott Erickson. (To be fair, Scott Erickson has been a whiner since he came to Baltimore, always blaming someone else -- Chris Hoiles' pitch calling, Miller not giving him the schedule he wants, or whatever.)
In Baltimore, there are still people in denial over Cal Ripken's problems. But everywhere else that Cal Ripken goes, it immediately becomes apparent how badly he's struggling. Today it was the turn of the Toronto Sun.
Meanwhile, just as we reported last week, former Orioles minor leaguer Joel
Bennett once again shut down the Rochester Red Wings.
If Thursday's surprising (but ugly) upset of Roger Clemens and the Yankees gave Os fans some hope, maybe the thought that the team could build some momentum, that thought seems to have been misplaced. While the offense continued to perform -- 12 hits, including 2 doubles and 2 homers -- the pitching has continued to be a disaster, and the result was a 7-6 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. Today Sidney Ponson pitched reasonably well, but threw a lot of pitches and was removed from the game after five innings. The Orioles were leading at the time, but with the Orioles bullpen, no lead is safe, and particularly not the one run one they left with. Nobody except Mike Timlin can honestly be said to be doing his job, although Ricky Bones had been pitching well until last night.
Meanwhile, for the first time in seventeen years, Cal Ripken sat out a game, not because he was hurt, not because he wanted to end the streak, but because the manager decided he needed it. For all our criticsm of Ray Miller, we want to compliment him for (finally) figuring out that this needed to be done. Miller, though, refuses to admit that Ripken may well be done, and instead blames it on distractions related to his father passing away. Ken Rosenthal of the Sun notes how sad the spectacle is.
An ex-Oriole note: Toronto pitcher Joey Hamilton, who was supposed to start against the Orioles on Sunday, has been placed on the disabled list. His replacement on the roster is former Oriole Nerio Rodriguez, who was traded to the Blue Jays in the Juan Guzman deal last year.
And speaking of trades from last year, that one was made by Pat Gillick.
While we've been very critical of Gillick, former Blue Jay Al Leiter, who Gillick
tried to sign in Baltimore three years ago, thinks very highly of Gillick.
After losing the first two games of the series to the Yankees, the Orioles rebounded Thursday night by pummeling ace Roger Clemens for 7 runs on 11 hits in only 3 innings en route to a 9-7 victory. The Orioles still have yet to win in games not started by Mike Mussina, and like the first two games of the series, this one was not pretty. The defense was less than spectacular, leading to 6 unearned runs, and though the Orioles got 18 hits, they again struggled with runners on base, stranding 16 baserunners.
Finally, we forgot to mention this yesterday, but congratulations to Harold
Baines for hitting his 350th career homerun. That came on Wednesday
night off Hideki Irabu.
On the plus side, it can't get any worse. Only the most optimistic of fans really thought the Os' offseason reconstruction had put them on par with the Yankees, though many thought the gap had been closed. And if you knew only that the Orioles had beaten up badly Yankee Starter Hideki Irabu, you might agree. But when the Yankees have a struggling veteran, they replace him in the rotation with a young player like Ramiro Mendoza. So Irabu was pitching mopup last night, and the Orioles' big rally against him came only after they were already down 8-2. As is often the case with the Orioles, the rally fell short, and then the Yankees got to the Os bullpen to the tune of six more runs. Add it up, and the Orioles lost a blowout to the Yankees, 14-7.
The "fire Ray Miller" bandwagon has started picked up steam in the last couple of days. Ken Rosenthal of the Sun has climbed on in a very insightful column, though he admits it probably won't save the 1999 season. Richard Justice of the Post, on the other hand, while criticizing the Orioles, cops out with the theory that because the team is bad, we can't be sure Miller's a bad manager. But if it's taken the Baltimore media a while to figure out how flawed this team is, it has taken New York media like the Post and Daily News just a few days of observation.
Of course, the obvious solution would be to fire Ray Miller and then start rebuilding, but the Os haven't yet reached that conclusion. According to Frank Wren, the problem isn't the team, so we shouldn't expect to see any trades for pitching, and the problem isn't the manager, so we shouldn't expect to see Ray Miller replaced.
The struggles of one Oriole may be partly explained; by the death of his father. Of course, Cal Ripken's age and lack of bat speed explain a lot more, but it's hard to avoid feeling sorry for a player who has just lost his father, who was also his baseball mentor, at the same time his career is disappearing. The Sun also notes the Orioles' interest in Mark Wohlers.
If it makes followers of the Os farm system feel any better, Orioles' minor leaguer Clay Bellinger got his first major league hit, and scored his first major league run, in the Os-Yankees game yesterday. The punch line (as regular readers of this page already guessed) is that Bellinger was playing third base for the Yankees at the time. (Really, we're not being fair to the Orioles here. Bellinger was a minor league journeyman who spent one season in the Os organization (Rochester, 1996). Still, he's better than the drek like Esteban Beltre that has filled space at Rochester in recent years. And we were struck by the irony.)
And Bellinger isn't the only Ex-Oriole to succeed elsewhere. Run out of town
by the insecure egotistical Ray Miller, Armando Benitez has found acceptance in New York. Of
course, there was nothing wrong with Benitez in Baltimore that a little bit of
patience wouldn't have solved.
If it's possible for any April series to be crucial, the three-game Yankee series starting on Tuesday was it. Just six games into the season, the Orioles were already in last place, 3 games out. But more than the record, it has been the way the Os have been losing that has created the tension surrounding the team. Bad pitching, untimely hitting, and poor defense, as well as controversial decisions by the manager.
Given the direction the two teams were going, the series threatened to be a blowout. But Juan Guzman, rebounding from a poor initial start, mostly shut down the Yankees, pitching six strong innings of work, and the teams were tied at 2 after six innings. Contrary to Ray Miller's whining, everything seemed to be going the Orioles' way; the Yankees were playing more like the Orioles, as the Os managed to score one unearned run thanks to a double play ball that was thrown away and a dropped third strike, another unearned run thanks to a ball that went right through Chuck Knoblauch's legs, and a third unearned run thanks to a hit by Bordick misplayed into a triple by Bernie Williams followed by a passed ball.
But it wasn't to be; when you're a great team you win despite these sorts of mistakes, and the Yankees, make no mistake about it, are a great team. The Yankees scored four runs in the pivotal eighth inning, courtesy of a fluke double off the third base bag, a passed ball, and a three-run home run by Jorge Posada, and ultimately won, 6-3. Of course, for all the talk about "lucky breaks" and "hitting with men on base" and such, it's the talent that matters; it doesn't hurt when the Yankees have Posada batting for them, while the Orioles are stuck pinch-hitting with Rich Amaral. Wouldn't it be neat if, instead of Amaral, the Orioles had a real hitter on the bench, say, somebody who had hit 27 home runs at Rochester last year? Oh, wait, they do. Why won't Miller use Otanez?
In farm news, an Orioles minor leaguer had an excellent start Monday in the Rochester-Scranton game. Unfortunately, that minor leaguer was Joel Bennett, and he was pitching against the Red Wings, since the Orioles let him get away last July while keeping such notable "stars" as Doug Drabek on the roster.
The order for the amateur June draft has been announced; the Orioles have four first round picks. They will be
selecting 13th, 18th, 21st, and 23rd in the first round, and then have picks 34,
44, and 50 as sandwich picks. The extra picks come as compensation for losing
Eric Davis, Rafael Palmeiro, and Roberto Alomar, although the Orioles will lose
some picks in lower rounds for their signings of Albert Belle, Will Clark, Mike
Timlin, and Delino DeShields. (And will gain one for losing Alan Mills.) This
shows why the conventional analysis that a team "has to trade" a player to avoid
"losing him for nothing" is wrong.
The weather was awful, and the game was awfuler. (No, it's not a real word. So sue us. It still fits.) The Orioles had struggled the first four games of the season, but the Os had a chance to turn things around after Mike Mussina's gem on Saturday. 3-3 wasn't the way the Orioles wanted to start out the season, but after the debacle against the Devil Rays, it would have been a pleasant consolation prize. It wasn't to be. Not that this was a total surprise, given that the Orioles, after demoting Doug Johns, were starting Doug Linton, a journeyman minor leaguer who hadn't appeared in the majors since 1996, and who hadn't pitched successfully in the majors since, well, ever. But what was a surprise is that Linton, throwing a mixture of mid-80 MPH fastballs and low-70 MPH breaking pitches, did an adequate job. In trouble for much of his five innings of work, he escaped allowing just two runs.
That made the game story the bullpen and defense, and the story shouldn't be told with small children in the room. Suffice it to say that Mike Fetters was awful, and Jesse Orosco was not much better, though his defense sabotaged him. The key play of the game was a botched rundown, a play that every team practices a zillion times. With men on first and third and no outs, Dave Hollins hit a routine double play ball to Cal Ripken. Instead of throwing to second, however, Cal decided to throw out Jose Cruz at the plate. (Error One.) Then Charles Johnson chased Cruz only halfway back to third and threw, rather than chasing him all the way back as he was supposed to. (Error Two.) Then Ripken, chasing Cruz back towards home, threw too high. (Error Three.) Jesse Orosco dropped the throw. (Error Four.) Cruz scored, and the two runners ended up at second and third. A sacrifice fly and intentional walk later, a three run homer sealed the game. Add it up, and the Orioles turned a 4-2 lead into a 9-5 blowout loss.
The Orioles now start their first road trip of the season, a tough nine-game trip which starts with the Yankees and Blue Jays, before ending up in Tampa. Wednesday's game is a pretty good matchup, with Cone against Erickson, but Thursday is the marquee matchup, with Roger Clemens facing Mike Mussina. As they do, questions begin to mount about Cal Ripken's future.
And questions also mount about Ray Miller's future. The roster decisions being made are questionable enough, but
Miller's extreme anti-youth prejudices just get worse and worse. Jesse Garcia
was demoted when DeShields was activated from the DL, despite the fact that Jeff
Reboulet is hurting enough to be placed on the DL. And Miller seems to be
focusing his ire on youngster Sidney Ponson, despite the fact that veterans have
struggled just as badly.
The Orioles starting pitching entered Saturday's game with a combined 10.00 ERA over the first four games, and even ace Mike Mussina contributed to that, giving up four runs in five innings against Tampa Bay on opening day. But yesterday, Mussina dominated the Blue Jays, as he pitched seven strong innings in gaining only the Orioles second win of the season, a 1-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.
The good: an easy one for this game
In other news, the Orioles have several roster moves to make. Delino DeShields is just about ready to be recalled from his rehab assignment, and the Orioles will need a fifth starter today. Despite the fact that Jeff Reboulet was scratched from the starting line-up due to injury yesterday, youthaphopic Ray Miller will likely demote Garcia to the minors instead of putting Reboulet on the DL. Also, Doug Linton, the veteran journeyman with a career ERA near 6, will likely take the 5th slot in the rotation, while younger Rocky Coppinger will stay in Rochester. Doug Johns, who probably sealed his fate by getting arrested last week, will likely be demoted to Rochester, so that, as per GM Frank Wren's mandate, the Orioles will carry only 11 pitchers instead of Miller's insistence on 12.
From the strange but true department, Jason Grimsley recently admitted to being the mysterious person who, back in 1994, replaced Belle's corked bat in the umpire's locker room with a clean one when both were with the Chicago White Sox.
We haven't gotten our hands on a copy yet, but Eric Davis' autobiography, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story" will be released Monday. We'll give a review after we've read it, but in the meantime, if you happen to read it, send us some excerpts and we'll post it on the page. Apparently, Davis harshly criticizes Miller for being insecure, and, well, basically not knowing how to manage- but more specfically by playing favorites with veterans, frequently changing the line-up, and worsening team chemistry. Our guess is that Davis isn't the only veteran who feels this way, and hopefully Miller won't last much longer as manager. In any case, Davis will sign copies of the book at 5 PM tomorrow at Bibelot in Timonium Crossing.
Finally, Jerold Hoffenberger, another member of the Orioles family has passed away. Hoffenberger owned the team between 1965
and 1979, when the Orioles made it to five World Series.
Keep repeating the mantra: It's only the first week of the season. It's only the first week of the season. Last year, the Orioles started out 10-2, and not much went right after that. So maybe a poor start this year signifies good things to come. (Okay, so it's a stretch, but hey, we can dream.) If you read our report on Wednesday's game, or if you read our report on Thursday's game, this one was pretty much the same: the starting pitcher got knocked around early, and the offense chipped in a few runs late. The start of the game was delayed for an hour and a half by rain, and it would have been better had it never been started, since not much went right once it did, and the Orioles lost to the Blue Jays, 7-4.
The good: getting harder and harder to find.
The bad: the starting pitching and the hitting
The ugly: the managing.
As noted above, Cal Ripken returned to action on Friday night, after his almost unprecedented two game injury break. He contributed with an opposite field double his first time up, but whether his back -- or his bat -- will hold up over the long haul remains to be seen. We're somewhat ambivalent on this, since, with Delino DeShields' expected activation on Saturday, a roster move involving a young player will have to be made. Presumably Garcia will be sent down, which would be disappointing except that Ray Miller has made it clear through his actions that Garcia won't get any playing time even if he is in the majors.
We should point out that two young Orioles pitchers did pitch very well on Thursday. Unfortunately, it was a AAA game, and one of those pitchers was Nerio Rodriguez, who is now pitching in the Toronto organization after having been packaged to the Blue Jays in the Juan Guzman trade last year. The other was Rocky Coppinger, who gets to spend more time in AAA while 34-year old journeyman Doug Linton, who hasn't pitched in the majors since 1996 and who has a career ERA of 5.84, gets the call on Sunday.
And speaking of young Oriole prospects who belong in the majors, we want to
point out this feature story on Jerry Hairston.
For the second time in less than a year, Cal Ripken made headlines for what he didn't do -- play in a game. For the first time in seventeen years, Cal Ripken sat out a game with an injury. The same back injury which drove him from the opening day game in the third inning -- and which the Orioles originally said would not cause Cal to miss any time -- kept Cal out of this game. At least this time he and Ray Miller were smart enough to make the decision before the game started, so it didn't hurt the team, but as Ken Rosenthal of the Sun points out, Miller still didn't handle it very well. Ripken is still expected to start on Thursday.
In terms of the people who actually did play in the game, it looked, unfortunately, a lot like a game from last season. Juan Guzman, who had looked so good in spring training (a 0.96 ERA), got pounded by the anemic Devil Rays, and the Orioles offense, while productive, was too little, too late.
The good: the offense. For the second straight day, the Orioles got 13 hits and 6 walks.
The bad: the pitching.
And speaking of Doug Johns' problems, he was arrested early Tuesday morning for drunk driving, and was also
charged with marijuana possession. Although the Orioles are officially
supporting him, they have to feel pretty annoyed with Johns, whose job was
already on thin ice despite his solid performance this spring. When the Orioles
need a fifth starter this Sunday, they will be calling up Doug Linton to start in
place of the still-injured Scott Kamieniecki. Originally Willis Otanez's job was
thought to be in danger, but Frank Wren has apparently overruled Ray Miller and
has decided to keep "only" 11 pitchers. This placed Johns on the bubble, and his
little incident has almost certainly sealed his fate.
OPENING DAY!!!: For the first time in six years, the Orioles played someone other than the Kansas City Royals on Opening Day. The game was ugly, and as is typical for an Orioles game, it was _long_ (almost 4 hours), but since the Orioles won, 10-7, we're not complaining. If the Orioles hope to improve on last year's disappointment and contend for the wild card this year, they have to beat teams like Tampa, so today was a good start.
The good: the offense. The Orioles got some from every position except third base.
The bad: the pitching.
The ugly: ow!
If there were any complaints about today's game, besides the pitching and Cal's back, it was with the newfangled ticket system, which resulted in long delays.
Finally, although the Orioles have obviously settled on a roster, the crunch for space still hasn't been settled. For now, Otanez
has a spot, but when the Orioles need a fifth starter, it's unclear what will
happen. That fifth starter was supposed to be Kamieniecki, but since he's still
hurt, it appears that Doug Linton will get the start. We'll be sure to keep you updated on developments.
Well, spring training did not end on a particularly bright note for the Orioles. On Friday Scott Erickson was roughed up for six runs, five hits, and four walks in four innings of a 9-1 loss to the Braves, and on Saturday, young Sidney Ponson lasted only one inning, giving up six runs and six hits in an 8-7 loss to the Phillies in the spring finale. The Orioles start the season Monday with a 3-game series against the Devil Rays in Baltimore, with ace Mike Mussina getting the call opening day.
The roster was pared down to 25 players, with Willis Otanez, and 25-year old Jesse Garcia making the final cut, though we all know that Ray Miller will ensure that they receive little or no playing time. The big news, however, is who is missing from the roster, and we don't mean Jason Johnson, Doug Linton, and Lyle Mounton, who were all reassigned to the minors today. Chris Hoiles, the starting catcher for the Orioles for the past 9 years, was released, and though he did not complain, he was obviously hurt by the decision. Hoiles was offered an unspecified job in the organization, and though he had earlier maintained that he would retire if he did not make the team, he now indicates that he may try to sign with another team.
Remember after the Jason Johnson for Clyburn trade, when Ray Miller said "Frank's become my hero because he's starting to accumulate as many power arms as he can"? Well, you can throw that out the window. Yesterday, the Orioles traded one of their top pitching prospects, 22-year old Chris Fussell, to the Kansas City Royals for 33-year old Jeff Conine, who will essentially replace Hoiles and pretty much reduce Otanez's role to strictly a back-up player. Check back at the Warehouse later for further analysis of the trade.
In other news, Scott Kamieniecki and Delino DeShields were placed on the disabled list, and the Orioles indicated that Kamieniecki will not be ready until the end of the month at the earliest. So, with injuries already piling up for the Orioles- who are just as old as last years team- is 1999 going to be any different than last season? Ken Rosenthal says that though possible, the odds are against such a thing happening.
Finally, as opening day approaches, we have a load of links for you to check out:
Cal Ripken, playing in his first game since returning from the funeral of his father, hit a homerun in the win. In honor of Cal Sr, the Orioles will be wearing a #7 patch on the sleeves of their jerseys.
In other news, the roster is just about set, and since there were few if any real fights for jobs this spring, it's full of veterans like Heathcliffe Slocumb, who is happier to be in Baltimore than most Oriole fans are that he is here.
In any case, newly acquired Jason Johnson is
happy to have been traded from the lowly Devil
Rays, but that's only because he does not know that players under 30 have
no real opportunity to play for the Orioles, as
Danny Clyburn can attest to. For our thoughts on the trade, check out the latest installment of
Bricks from the Warehouse.