By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 13, 2008
BOSTON, July 12 -- Earlier in this road trip, with his pitching staff's numbers languishing among the worst in the American League, Baltimore Orioles pitching coach Rick Kranitz offered a reminder of just how unforgiving a training ground the American League East can be for young pitchers.
With three of the five pitchers in the rotation in their first seasons as full-time starters, the Orioles have been particularly affected. And with no viable candidates to move up from the minors should one of them struggle, the Orioles seem committed to enduring the learning process despite how rough it could be.
"If you keep making changes every time somebody doesn't pitch well, you're never going to have anybody to pitch," Kranitz said last week. "They're going to have some days were they don't do so well. It's not an easy division, it's not an easy league for a young kid to come up and pitch. But you've got to learn."
One such night came on Saturday at Fenway Park, when the potent Boston Red Sox lineup treated Orioles starter Radhamés Liz like a punching bag. Baltimore absorbed its most lopsided defeat of the season -- and Liz suffered through the worst outing this season by an Orioles starting pitcher not named Steve Trachsel -- a 12-1 defeat before 37,539 at Fenway Park.
Liz, who didn't speak with reporters after the game, was chased in the disastrous third, when he was responsible for six of the seven runs the Red Sox scored in that inning. The seven-run inning tied a season high for the Orioles, who dropped their sixth game in their last seven.
Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield compounded the problems by giving up just one run, on a Ramón Hernández homer, in seven strong innings. And some of the frustration generated from Wakefield's excellent night led to Orioles Manager Dave Trembley's seventh-inning ejection, after he argued a called third strike by home plate umpire Doug Eddings on Kevin Millar.
"Wakefield was getting the benefit of the doubt on a lot of pitches tonight, and I'm sure it's hard to umpire when a knuckleball guy is throwing," Trembley said. "But Millar is a pretty good hitter. When you're calling strike three on a [pitch] that's on his shoe tops . . . I think you should be a little better than that."
Millar, who argued with the umpire before Trembley came on the scene, questioned Eddings's professionalism before praising Trembley's attempt to stick up for him.
"That was clearly a ball four," said Millar, who struck out with the Orioles trailing by nine runs. "I don't know if he had a dinner reservation or what. But to me you have to be professional and bear down on every pitch. That's why he's at this level. . . . He blew a call at first base last night. We all make mistakes. But that's not my fault. I'm competing in the batter's box and that's where it gets frustrating."
Still, theatrics aside, the more pressing issue was Liz's horrendous performance, which was bad from the start. In the first, he surrendered back-to-back homers to J.D. Drew and Manny Ramírez, snapping a streak of 36 innings in which the Orioles' pitching staff did not allow a home run. Even from the dugout, Kranitz said Liz looked rattled after the homers.
"Other teams, they sense that, they'll feed off of that," he said. "They'll say: 'Hey, we got him. Let's keep it going.' And that's kind of what it looked like."
It showed most in the third, when it appeared that Liz altogether lost the ability to throw a strike. After allowing a hit to Dustin Pedroia, Liz walked Drew, hit Ramírez with a pitch and walked Lowell to force home a run. He fell behind 3-1 to Kevin Youkilis before serving up a fastball that tailed back toward the plate. Youkilis sent the mistake over the Green Monster for a spirit-crushing grand slam, good for the first four of his career-high six RBI on the night.
When Liz walked the next batter, Sean Casey, a grim-faced Trembley pulled the young pitcher. Of Liz's last 23 pitches, only five crossed the plate as called strikes. And judging by where catcher Hernández set up, none of them hit its intended target.
All told, Boston sent 12 batters to the plate in the third inning. And Liz, who has allowed six homers in his last three starts, watched his ERA soar from 5.94 to a jumbo-size 7.57.
"It's a tough place for a young guy, to come in especially when you don't have command of your pitches," Kranitz said of Fenway Park. "They'll wait you out and that's what it looked like today. They boxed him into fastball counts and they got fastballs.
"You do that here, you're looking at some trouble."