For Orioles, No Relief in Sight
First-Half Problems Have Carried Over: Devil Rays 7, Orioles 2
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 19, 2004; Page D09
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., July 18 -- The three-day all-star break brought no miracle cure for what ails the Baltimore Orioles, nor any great epiphany. The first half of the season found the Orioles to be a team that cannot hit left-handed pitching, cannot depend on its bullpen for quality relief and cannot rise above those deficiencies. And their first series of the second half showed nothing but the same.
A 7-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays sent the Orioles on to Kansas City no closer to finding answers to their profound problems than they were before the break. Although they split a four-game series here this weekend, the Orioles (39-50) departed Sunday evening filled with frustration.
"If I had an answer, I'd give it to you," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "But I don't."
Mazzilli was answering a specific question about the team's strange inability to hit lefties, but his expression of bafflement could have applied to just about any segment of the team.
In front of a crowd of 13,656 at Tropicana Field, the Devil Rays broke open a 2-2 game with a five-run outburst in the sixth inning, which began against Orioles starter Dave Borkowski (1-1) and continued against right-handers Eddy Rodriguez, who faced three batters and gave up three singles, and Mike DeJean, who served up a two-run triple to all-star Carl Crawford.
"Any momentum we had going," said Borkowski, making his second start since being called up from Class AAA Ottawa, "I killed it."
The Devil Rays' unparalleled team speed served them well in the series, as Crawford alone racked up four triples in four games. In addition, rookie speedster Joey Gathright scored from first base on Jose Cruz's double down the left-field line in the fifth inning Sunday, although he was aided by the fact second baseman Brian Roberts, the cut-off man on the play, had trouble getting the ball out of his glove before the throw home.
Meantime, the Orioles' offense was stifled by left-hander Mark Hendrickson, a 6-foot-9 former NBA player with modest baseball credentials. Two of his 19 big-league wins, amassed over a three-year career, have come in the last two weeks against the Orioles. He shut them out over eight innings in Baltimore on July 6, and on Sunday pitched the first nine-inning complete game of his career.
The return of third baseman Melvin Mora -- and his .347 batting average -- from the disabled list failed to end the Orioles' maddening run of frustration against left-handed pitching. Although Mora hit a solo opposite-field homer in the sixth inning, the Orioles still lost for the 21st time in 30 games started by lefties.
One scout from another team who has seen the Orioles frequently said they are "unbelievably susceptible" to changeups, especially from lefties. But Hendrickson relied mainly on fastballs Sunday. In any case, the Orioles' .242 batting average against lefties this season ranks next to last in the league.
"We've been hitting extra [before games]. But you have to do it in the game," Mazzilli said. "You have to take what we do and you have to implement it in the game."
Borkowski's downfall began when he walked leadoff hitter Aubrey Huff in the sixth inning after getting ahead 1-2 in the count. After Julio Lugo followed with a sharp single to left, Borkowski's afternoon was over.
Lefty John Parrish entered and quickly struck out Tino Martinez for the first out, but then Rodriguez came in, faced three batters and retired none. The key batter for Rodriguez was his first, rookie Jorge Cantu, who hit a grounder in the hole at shortstop that Miguel Tejada could not come up with. Two singles later, it was 5-2.
With lefty Buddy Groom unavailable after pitching in three straight games, Mazzilli turned to DeJean to face the left-handed-hitting Crawford, who blasted DeJean's second pitch high off the right-center wall for a two-run triple. Game over.
"We still have a lot of the second half left," said Orioles right fielder Jerry Hairston. "It's just one series."
Orioles Notes: The team will need an additional starter to pitch one end of Thursday's day-night doubleheader in Boston, and Mazzilli does not want to start a reliever, as he did with John Parrish on July 7 with disastrous results (a 13-3 loss to Tampa Bay).
The Orioles could reach down to Ottawa and call up either lefty Bruce Chen (3-1 with a 3.06 ERA at Ottawa) or top prospect John Maine (4-5, 4.26). . . .
Hairston made his 13th and 14th starts of the season in right field the past two games and has contributed a spectacular catch each time. On Saturday, he made a diving grab down the line, and on Sunday he made a leaping snag of Cruz's line drive just shy of the warning track. . . . To make room for Mora, the team optioned infielder Jose Leon to Ottawa.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company