|News Archives: April 2000|
Finally on Friday, the Kansas City Royals didn't make a great late inning comeback to win the game. Unfortunately, the Orioles weren't in Kansas City on Friday; they were playing Minnesota. It was the Yankees playing in Kansas City, and the Magic Comeback Ability shifted from the Royals to the Twins. We've been fond of pointing out that the team's losses are often misattributed to the bullpen when the starter and/or the offense deserves equal blame. But that's not the case here. Some blame can be attributed the outfield "defense," and we use the term loosely, but somehow Jose Mercedes managed to pitch adequately despite the same handicap. To recap: today the Orioles got adequate starting pitching and plenty of offense against perhaps the worst team in the league. They still lost, 10-9, as the bullpen was an absolute nightmare, blowing a five run lead with just two innings left in the game. And as quickly as they reached the best record in the league, their fourth straight loss means that their winning record is now gone.
With the struggles of the bullpen, some changes are going to be made soon. The culprits in the bullpen arson of the last four days: Reyes (33.75 ERA in that timespan), McElroy (16.20), Groom (9.00), B.J. Ryan (3.86), Tim Worrell (27.00), and Mike Trombley (40.50). The first four were each used twice, and the last two once each. Only Ryan had any effectiveness, but he still managed to blow one game. Rookie Gabe Molina hasn't been given a shot to throw gasoline. And that's interesting, because Mike Timlin is expected to come off the DL soon, and somebody has to get sent down, and Molina and Reyes are the only two players with options.
The bad thing is that the brainrust seems to be pinning all its hopes on Timlin's return, as if Timlin wasn't part of the problem last season. He can't do worse than the current group, but he's not going to magically turn a group of washed-up mid-30s players into an effective squad, either. Players with career ERAs over 5, like Groom, aren't very good. This isn't rocket science here.
Meanwhile, Scott Erickson is expected to be back from the disabled list in two
weeks, and when he comes back, one of Calvin Maduro or Mercedes has to get
demoted. Either would have to clear waivers. Plus, Jason Johnson is pitching well at Rochester, and will probably be
called up shortly. Mercedes hasn't been much to write home about, with his
5.73 ERA in 2 starts, but Maduro's first start was terrible; his second
start is today, and if he doesn't have a stellar outing, we expect that he will
be waived. Of course, the Orioles could stick him in the pen and ditch one of
the over-30 members of the arson squad, but we don't see it happening. That
would be thoughtful, and this team avoids long-term thinking like the plague.
Well, another game, another blown lead. For a change, though, it wasn't the Orioles blowing the lead; it was the Kansas City Royals. Unfortunately, the Orioles' veteran-laden lineup isn't as potent as the Royals' young offense, and wasn't able to complete the comeback the way the Royals did the previous two days. The Orioles managed to tie up the game, but Kansas City quickly answered with yet another walk-off run in the bottom of the ninth, and the Royals completed a three game sweep of Baltimore, 6-5. And as Ken Rosenthal of the Sun points out, the contrast between the two teams couldn't be greater.
When Delino DeShields stole his seventh base of the season on Thursday afternoon, that was the 400th of his career. Congrats, Delino. At least one Oriole is reaching a career milestone. (Although we wish Mike Hargrove would be a little more judicious in his baserunning decisions. The Orioles have run themselves out of a couple of innings already this year.)
Finally, an Ex-O note: Cal Ripken's completed purchase of the remaining 90% of
the IBL Bayrunners made news the other day, but it's his other team we wanted to
mention. The Aberdeen
Arsenal, who play in the independent Atlantic League, signed former Oriole
farmhand T. R. Lewis today.
We repeat: OUCH! (Sorry for the lack of originality, but then, it's the same-old-same-old with the Orioles, so we thought it should be the same-old-same-old with our update.) For the second straight game, the Kansas City Royals beat the Orioles with a walk-off homer. (It's the third third straight game the Royals have done it.) For the second straight game, the Orioles took an early lead thanks to both their offense and their starting pitching. For the second straight game, the bullpen folded, giving up a bunch of runs, including a homer to a weak hitter like Rey Sanchez. And for the second straight game, the Orioles lost to the Royals, this time 7-6. Now they're looking just like last year's team, although they're still in first place thanks to their earlier winning streak.
So much for the excuse from Tuesday's game that the Os would have won if only they had "been able" to use Mike Trombley. (They were able to use him; they just chose not to use him because of the strange idea that the top pitcher in the bullpen can't handle the eighth inning of a game.) Today they did use Trombley, and it was he who blew the game. Just like last year, we're going to hear a lot this year about the bullpen. And just like last year, there will be a grain of truth -- after all, just like last year the bullpen is mostly filled with retread veterans -- but it will ignore larger points about the mediocre offense (this team scored just one run in the last seven innings on Tuesday) and the range-free defense. Besides, injuries are to be expected with a team this old. (Although both Greg Myers and Mike Timlin could come back after this weekend, and Scott Erickson seems to be progressing well, too.)
Here's an article you might be interested in, talking about the lack of twenty game winners in the majors these days and specifically focusing on Mike Mussina.
For those of you who buy the media line about the Os front office being in chaos, at least we don't see Steinbrenneresque moves like firing people in midseason. Unlike, say, in Tampa, where their pitching coach got the axe after a little more than a week. I guess it's the pitching coach's fault that their top two pitchers are on the disabled list.
Ex-O notes: a double whammy for the Dodgers, as they've had to place both
Kevin Brown and Gregg Olson on the disabled list in the last few
OUCH! Just when we were starting to wonder whether our pessimism about this team was justified, after they ran off a winning streak which pushed them into first, they play a game like this one. A game which was reminiscent of the Ray Miller Orioles. A game where no matter what goes right, they find a way to lose. The Orioles had a 5-2 lead entering the bottom of the eighth inning, thanks to homers by Brady Anderson and Cal Ripken and seven strong innings by Sidney Ponson. Then it all fell apart, thanks to the bullpen. Al Reyes, already on shaky ground after a poor spring, gave up a game-tying 3-run homer to non-slugger Joe Randa with 2 outs in the eighth. And the Orioles couldn't score for the last 5 innings of the game, so when Tim Worrell gave up a 2-run homer in the bottom of the 12th to weak-hitting Brian Johnson, it was the game-loser. And the Orioles went down to an all-too familiar 7-5 extra-inning defeat.
And in another one of those priceless "We hate youth" moves the Orioles are so fond of, pitcher Jimmy Hamilton, acquired from the Indians for Harold Baines as part of Frank Wren's midseason rebuilding mini-effort last year, was demoted from Rochester to Bowie. Was it because he was pitching badly? Nope. It was to make room for Billy Brewer. Billy Brewer? Who? If you guessed that he was a young prospect, move back three spaces. Brewer, of course, is a 32-year old bad lefty middle reliever joining his eighth organization since 1995. So of course the Orioles needed to demote the 24-year old Hamilton. What other choice did they have?
Finally, a couple of stadium-related stories. The Detroit newspapers credit Camden Yards for inspiring their new Comerica
ballpark, even as Camden Yards has begun to show a little age. It needs a new coat of paint which it will be getting this
spring and summer.
Despite the Orioles' great start, we just don't believe they're a great team. But there's one thing we feel confident about: even if they're not great, they sure as heck look better than the Detroit Tigers.
Meanwhile, demoted starter Jason Johnson pitched well in his Rochester debut. Certainly with the initial ineffectiveness of Ponson, Mercedes, and Maduro, they have to be looking over their respective shoulders. This will be a test to see how patient Mike Hargrove can be.
In Ex-O news, something which will surprise no one is that Rockies outfielder
Jeffrey Hammonds made his annual First Trip to the
Disabled List of the season. Lefty reliever Norm Charlton was signed
to a minor league contract by Cincinnati. Lefties never retire. And minor
leaguer Everett Stull was called up by Milwaukee. On the other hand, pitcher
Doug Johns was sold by the As to the Orix Blue Wave, a Japanese team.
Starter Juan Guzman was placed on the disabled list by the Devil Rays
after getting hammered in his debut for the team, and minor league journeyman
utility infielder Esteban Beltre joined his umpteen-millionth AAA team when the
Diamondbacks signed him to a minor league deal.
Take a look again; that's a new table. The first row of statistics is Charles Johnson's 1999 stats for April. The second is Charles Johnson's 2000 stats for April, so far. Just a small improvement for Charles this year. We don't want to make too much of just four games, but it's still good to see. Johnson has never really had the breakthrough year everybody has expected from him, but with free agency looming, this would be a good time, both for him and the Orioles. He's certainly had a breakthrough week; today he hit his fourth homer of the young season. But he wasn't the only one; if you thought Wednesday's 11-7 victory over the Indians was a slugfest, this one showed how wrong you were. That one featured "only" 18 runs, 22 hits, 9 walks, and 4 homers, while today's game contained 24 runs, 27 hits, 13 walks, and nine homers. Fortunately, a majority of these stats came from the bats of the Orioles, because young starter Calvin Maduro proved unable to hold a 5-1 lead, and the Orioles eked out a 14-10 victory over the Juan-Gone-less Detroit Tigers to gain sole possession of first place in the American League East.
As expected, Gabe Molina was called up when Mike Timlin was placed on the disabled list. Setup man Mike Trombley will be taking Timlin's closer role, but Mike Hargrove seems willing to give Molina some work. Timlin isn't expected to miss more than the minimum two-week stay on the list. The media seems worried about the effect this will have on the team, but we don't particularly see any reason to worry. Mike Timlin's no Mariano Rivera; he's an interchangeable bullpen part. There's no reason the deep bullpen can't do the job with or without Timlin.
Penultimately, we noted yesterday that it was reported that Jerry Hairston was so frustrated that he had demanded a trade. Today, Hairston denies those reports, saying that he understands his role and wouldn't ask to be traded. It sounds like spin control to us, but the good news is that Mike Hargrove characterized the thought of trading him as "stupid."
In the Ex-O arena, we wanted to mention that "outfielder" Geronimo
Berroa was called up by the Dodgers today to rejoin his erstwhile Baltimore
manager, Davey Johnson. And there are two ex-O pitchers to mention: Esteban Yan, who made a successful debut for the
Devil Rays as a starter on Wednesday, with seven shutout innings; and Chris
Fussell. Fussell, you may recall, was the promising young pitching prospect the
Orioles sent to Kansas City for backup first baseman Jeff Conine, and had a nice
pitching line on Friday which deserves notice:
The first line shows Charles Johnson's 1999 stats against the Cleveland Indians. The second line shows Charles Johnson's 2000 stats against the Cleveland Indians. Notice a slight difference? And that "slight difference" is a big reason why the Orioles have already won more games against the Cleveland Indians than they did all of last year, when Cleveland took 9 of 10 from the Os. After a two homer, 5-RBI game on Wednesday, Johnson had an encore with a 3-run homer on Thursday, snapping a 2-2 tie in the sixth and leading Baltimore to a 6-2 defeat of the Indians.
In roster news, we will have to wait a while longer to find out whether supposedly new-and-improved closer Mike Timlin lives up to his advance billing, as he is headed for the disabled list without throwing a regular season pitch yet, thanks to a partially-torn muscle in his side. The injury does not sound serious, but will keep him out for at least 10 more days. It is expected that another reliever, probably Gabe Molina, will take his place on the roster. Molina won't be the only callup, though. Jose Mercedes, who started off strong in the spring before tailing off somewhat at the end, is going to be called up this weekend in order to fill the fifth starter slot in the rotation.
In order to make room for Mercedes on the 40-man roster, the Orioles placed Aruban prospect Radhames Dykhoff on waivers, where he was claimed by the New York Mets. While we doubt that Dykhoff will ever be a significant loss, it is symbolic of the way this team is run that a veteran journeyman like Mercedes costs the Orioles yet another young player. And in a related note, the team's approach to young players continues to destroy organizational morale, as Jerry Hairston became the latest prospect to complain about his treatment. Hairston who has yet to appear in a game this season, is expected to be demoted in order to give Mercedes a spot on the major league roster. Hairston apparently calmed down, but both Hargrove and pseudo-GM Syd Thrift sounded annoyed that Hairston dared question them. Any bets on how long before Hairston is labelled an attitude problem?
We also wanted to point out a column by The Sun's Ken Rosenthal, who essentially demanded that the Orioles sign Charles Johnson to a contract extension immediately. We're not so inclined to gush over Charles Johnson, but we certainly would hope that this team would for a change make a decision based on talent rather than nepotism or Peter Angelos's whims. Certainly it has to be chilling to hear Mike Mussina suggest that Johnson's fate will affect his own decision to re-sign with the Os. But what really intrigued us about Rosenthal's column was that this was perhaps the first time in recorded memory that a member of the media has taken Scott Boras's side in a dispute.
And two ex-O notes: reliever Terry Mathews was signed to a minor league
deal by the Texas Rangers, and catcher Matt Nokes finally announced his
retirement after years of bouncing around the league.
After the obligatory off day, the Orioles were back in action against the Indians on Wednesday. And after a feeble showing on opening day, this game looked a little more like what the Orioles were expecting -- a big offense overcoming shaky pitching. But despite this game, we still don't think the Orioles are going to be on the winning side of too many 11-7 games like they were today. The game featured a combined total of 18 runs, 22 hits, 9 walks, 4 homers, two blown saves, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Stories about Scott Erickson's return date are mixed. The media keeps sounding extremely optimistic on one hand, and at the same time suggesting that they don't really know. He's throwing off a mound, but so far he has only thrown for 15 minutes or so.
Ex-O note: Ozzie Guillen, released from the Braves a week ago, was picked up by the Devil Rays today. A few of the more gullible members of the media predicted this spring that Tampa would actually rise past the Os in the standings this season. As long as their management makes signings like this one, Baltimore has nothing to worry about.
But that's not to say that the Orioles' brainrust doesn't still have its
collective heads shoved in its collective posteriors. The organization is still
being run on the basis of nepotism and general stupidity. Minor leaguers are
still being treated like dirt. What's the latest affront? Howie Clark, a
versatile player who had a good year with Rochester and who then chose to re-sign
with the Orioles "out of a sense of loyalty," was
demoted to Bowie. Why? To make room for 36 year old Wayne Kirby, who (as
we've already noted) has no real skills and whose only asset is having played
several years for Mike Hargrove. Meanwhile, other Os minor leaguers like Cal Pickering and Ryan
Minor are also worried about how they're being treated.
Well, it's a little early to draw conclusions, but since we've been saying it for two years, we won't wait. Unlike last year, where the Orioles opened up with a slugfest 10-7 victory over Tampa, what we saw on opening day this year is what we're going to see all year: good pitching let down by a weak offense. Trust us. The Orioles' 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Indians was a microcosm of what the season's likely to be like, absent drastic roster changes. Of course, the Os had better win most of Mussina's starts, or, as John Eisenberg of the Sun points out, it could be a really long year.
As a side note, we were somewhat amused to see that Ex-O Jeffrey
Hammonds injured himself already. He pulled a hamstring running out a
double. No word yet on how serious it is, but he had to be removed from the game
for a pinch runner. And we were happy to note that Ex-O Jeff "Mickey"
Manto snagged the last roster spot with the Rockies, while David
Dellucci survived the cut with the Diamondbacks. Reliever Jim Corsi
was inked to a minor league deal by those same Diamondbacks. And if you want to
know why the Marlins won't contend this year, Ex-O rejects Mark Smith (who
had been assigned to AAA just yesterday) and Ricky Bones were both added
to their roster.
With opening day having finally arrived -- if rain doesn't postpone it, that is -- the Orioles have to be feeling a little relief. After an extremely uneventful offseason which saw the Orioles make almost no roster moves, Spring Training hit, and so did injuries. All of the sudden, a team built on the idea that last year's lineup was adequate saw various ailments strike Jeff Conine, BJ Surhoff, and Brady Anderson. And the pitching, which underwent a major makeover, saw Scott Erickson go down. And now, just before the season begins, the Orioles' backup catcher, Greg Myers, has had to be placed on the disabled list, being replaced on the roster by journeyman minor league free agent Willie Morales.
In any case, the Orioles put the finishing touches on their opening day roster, with no last minute shockers. As expected, the Orioles went with 11 pitchers to start the year, with Jose Mercedes expected to take Jerry Hairston's place on the roster next week when the team needs a fifth starter. The roster is composed of:
Finally, we thought you might be interested in this season preview of the Rochester Redwings, as well as this profile of Ex-Oriole Armando Benitez. (You need to register
with the Times to read the article, but registration is free.)
In a game played in Chattanooga (Why???), the Os beat up on Cincinnati, 8-3.
The Os got a nice strong pitching performance from Pat Rapp, with the only real downside being that he only went 5 innings. Normally by the end of spring training, you like to see the inning counts up. Mike Timlin, BJ Ryan, and Mike Trombley all pitched scoreless innings, but Al Reyes again gave up a run in his inning of work.
IP H R ER BB SO HR Rapp 5 3 2 1 2 1 1 Timlin 1 1 0 0 1 1 0 Reyes 1 1 1 1 0 1 0 Bj Ryan 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 Trombley 1 0 0 0 0 1 0
Offensively, the Os showed some life, which was nice, as they racked up 14 hits and 5 walks. Plus, they actually picked up some extra base hits -- 3 doubles and a homer.
Brady Anderson started and went 1-3 and stole a base, which sounds good, though he didn't play the whole game. (We know it's only the spring, but you'd think they'd want to make sure he could.) Cal Ripken went 0-3, dropping his average to .143. Well, let's just keep hoping/assuming that spring numbers don't mean anything.
The bad news, we guess, is that Greg "Will Clark" Myers hurt himself -- apparently pulling a hamstring -- hitting a homer (!), and he barely was able to walk around the bases. The team is afraid he might have to go on the DL. While we don't consider this a big loss directly, if manager Mike Hargrove is as pathologically afraid of using a backup as Ray Miller was, Charles Johnson could get overworked again. If the team has to disable him, they're going to use, supposedly, a journeyman minor league free agent named Willie Morales, on the grounds that if they use someone like Tommy Davis, it might confuse other minor leaguers from the organization into thinking that they one day might play for the Os.
Finally, a few end-of-spring training Ex-Oriole notes: Kent Mercker made the
Angels, Bobby Bonilla made the Braves, and Ricky Bones made the Marlins.
Friday's penultimate spring training game was on national TV (TBS) so we are sure that many of you saw it. If you did, pretend you didn't. The Os lost, 5-0 to the Braves. They continued their pattern from this spring of simply not hitting against a major league opponent, recording just 5 hits (all singles) and 1 walk. And this wasn't Maddux or Millwood or Glavine; it was Terry Mullholland. The Os looked, as one observer noted, old and tired and flat.
With the exception of a homer he allowed to Andruw Jones, Sidney Ponson pitched better than in the recent past, though the outcome wasn't great. But he and the team are treating it as a successful outing; there were broken bat hits and infield hits. Buddy Groom pitched a scoreless inning, but Tim Worrell and Chuck McElroy each got touched up, including a homer by Steve Sisco (Who? Isn't he a fictional sports broadcaster or something?)
IP H R ER BB SO HR BALTIMORE PONSON (L) 5 5 3 3 2 4 1 GROOM 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 WORRELL 1 1 1 1 0 1 0 C MCELROY 1 2 1 1 1 1 1
Offensively, as we indicated, there's not much to say -- no offense to speak of. There's no real point in pretending there's competition for jobs, so we'll just bring out a few items:
As for general spring notes, Billy Ashley was released (from AAA), and was incredibly pissed off. He was released, of course, to make room for the 78-year old Wayne Kirby. Ashley's no spring chicken himself, but he's not the magic 3-0, so why have him in Rochester? Kirby has the advantage of... well, nothing. He's one of those guys we hate to have on the bench, because he brings *nothing* to the table. Some players are strong in one area, weak in others; Ashley, for instance, has power, but has little clue of the strike zone and can't play defense. Kirby has no _glaring_ weaknesses like that, but can't actually _do_ anything. But he played for Hargrove in Cleveland, so why make decisions based on merit?
In addition, Jason McCommon, Darin Blood, and Johnny Isom were also released. Blood, of course, was the "prospect" the Os got for Joe Carter from the Giants, who promptly got hurt and barely played for the Os. The team also released Ray Brown, who was the PTBNL in the Jeff Reboulet deal.
Meanwhile, the Os signed Phillies bullpen reject Mike Grace to a minor league deal. We think (and sincerely hope) that this is just for the purpose of filling Rochester's bullpen; if they ever contemplate using him in the majors, we might as well write off this millennium, too.
Also, the Os announced Rochester's 2000 rotation: Josh Towers, Jason Johnson, Rick Krivda, Matt Riley, and Javier de la Hoya, in that order.
BTW, one thing that wasn't mentioned about the David Howard signing: it
apparently bumps Eddy Martinez, who was expected to be Rochester's SS, to Bowie.
Another one of those long-term thinking moves of which we're so fond. For those
of you who think this sort of thing doesn't matter, minor leaguer Rick Short
looks at it differently:
At the end of this year, Short will have a decision to make -- either|
staying with the Orioles or signing with someone else since he
qualifies for free agency as a six-year minor leaguer.
"Every year they say they are going to give guys a shot, but they|
never do," Short said of the Orioles, who have not produced a starting
position player from their minor league system in almost 20 years. "I
just have to re-evaluate my situation, see what young guys they have
and what this year brings for me. I have to do what is in my best
And in an Ex-O note, outfielder Mark Smith was sent to AAA by the Marlins today.