O's, Penn Cannot Handle Indians

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By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 1, 2005

BALTIMORE, June 30 -- Hayden Penn will dictate a significant amount of the Orioles' future, either as part of the pitching rotation or as a bargaining chip in a trade. His talent and demeanor seem to predict success and perhaps one day Penn will become the type of pitcher who belongs atop a team's rotation. But for now he is simply a rookie struggling to get major league hitters out, and Thursday night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards he didn't get nearly enough Indians out in a 9-3 loss.

"I didn't feel comfortable out there at all," said Penn, who allowed five runs in just 3 2/3 innings.

Although Penn has not lasted seven innings in any of his seven starts and has pitched more than six innings just once, Manager Lee Mazzilli said his spot in the rotation is safe, for now.

"It's too quick" to make that decision, Mazzilli said. "We need to go over everything, not just him. I don't really see that right now."

In those seven starts, Penn has showed moments of brilliance, which is why his name has been discussed, at least internally, in possible deals for San Francisco Giants starter Jason Schmidt or Florida Marlins starter A.J. Burnett.

Brought up to replace the injured Erik Bedard, who was placed on the disabled list on May 26 because of a sprained left knee, Penn was considered the team's best young pitching prospect. The Orioles had no concerns about rushing Penn because they believed he was mentally and physically able for the task.

"We're asking a lot of that kid," Mazzilli said. "He's only 20 years old."

But Penn has allowed 12 runs in his past two games and has pitched just a total of 5 2/3 innings in those outings. He might not have reached the fourth inning on Thursday had he not gotten Casey Blake looking at strike three on a 3-and-2 pitch with the bases loaded in the third inning.

Penn did not take advantage of his second chance. He allowed two runs in the fourth and was taken out of the game with two outs. Mazzilli approached the mound and offered consoling words to his young pitcher, much like he had done in Penn's start a week ago in Atlanta. In that start, Penn allowed seven runs in just two innings.

He was only slightly better on Thursday. Penn allowed an Indian to reach base in each of the four innings he pitched.

"He just seemed a little jumpy out there," Mazzilli said. "Seemed like when he got in trouble he couldn't get the ball down."

Major league hitters appear to have caught on to Penn's stuff. The 20-year-old is often inconsistent with location and he often can't command his looping curveball. The rookie's ERA stands at 6.75, which was fourth worst in the majors among pitchers with seven or more starts.

"People have to understand he's out here battling his tail off for us doing the best he can," catcher Sal Fasano said. "He should be in Double A having a lot of success, but instead he's here trying to learn how to pitch. It's not easy to do."

It was almost unfair to expect Penn to match Bedard's early season success. Perhaps Baltimore will look to someone else to fill Bedard's spot until the lefty can return, which likely won't be until after the all-star break.

Baltimore squandered a terrific opportunity in the first inning when Indians starter Jake Westbrook struggled.

In that inning, Westbrook walked Brian Roberts and Larry Bigbie in consecutive at-bats and then allowed a single to Miguel Tejada to load the bases. Rafael Palmeiro singled in Roberts and Bigbie to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead. The single was the 2,991st hit of Palmeiro's career.

With men on first and second, Jay Gibbons grounded into a double play to end the threat. Sammy Sosa, who entered the game with just three hits in his previous 35 at-bats, grounded out to Westbrook to end the inning.

Westbrook did not falter much after that. He allowed a home run to Fasano, the catcher's sixth of the season, in the fifth inning, but never really had another rally against him the entire night. At one point Westbrook retired 10 consecutive batters. Westbrook allowed just four hits in his seven innings. Palmeiro singled in the eighth inning and is only eight hits away from 3,000.


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