The Baltimore Orioles, in almost desperate need of good news, received some Wednesday when veteran starter Mike Flanagan threw 15 minutes of batting practice.
Flanagan, the 1979 winner of the Cy Young Award who is recovering from a ruptured Achilles' tendon suffered during the offseason, threw "almost too hard," according to Manager Earl Weaver. "We had to tell him to cut back a little."
General Manager Hank Peters said he hopes Flanagan can return just after the All-Star break, in mid-July. The club still hasn't determined whether Flanagan will pitch in a rehabilitation assignment at Class A Hagerstown or, as pitching coach Ray Miller probably would prefer, in simulated games at Memorial Stadium.
Just when it appeared the Orioles were on the rebound, with four straight victories against Milwaukee, they suffered their worst series defeat in more than seven seasons. The Yankees' 26-4 composite score for three games was the most lopsided beating sustained by Baltimore since a 40-11 three-game sweep by Milwaukee to start the 1978 season.
The Orioles, in fact, have lost nine of 11 to the Yankees since July.
The Orioles are tied with the Minnesota Twins for the major-league lead in complete games with 15. But the Baltimore staff (along with Seattle) also leads the majors in another distinction: the starters have not been able to finish the fourth inning 15 times.
Baltimore's problems have not all been related to pitching. Less than two weeks ago, the Orioles had four regulars hitting around .300 -- Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken, Jim Dwyer and Larry Sheets.
Now, Murray leads the regulars at .296. Sheets, still having a very good rookie season, has fallen off to .281, Ripken to .280 and Dwyer to .273.
Dwyer, in fact, has had only five hits in 32 at bats since his 11-game hitting streak ended. And Ripken, Murray and Fred Lynn, the 3-4-5 hitters in the lineup, had only four hits in 32 at bats against the Yankees.
This is why the Orioles have been looking for an everyday second baseman: Rich Dauer, who has played 49 games this season (48 at second base), is hitting .176 with 24 hits in 136 at bats. By way of contrast, Yankees center fielder Rickey Henderson had 11 hits against the Orioles this week.
And Lenn Sakata, who is sharing the job with Dauer, is hitting .197 in 36 games. The two have only nine extra-base hits between them . . . On the other hand, Dauer, who is about to become the best-fielding second baseman in the history of baseball when he plays enough games to make the all-time list, has made only two errors all season. Sakata has made one.
Otherwise, the Orioles have been having trouble afield. Baltimore, consistently one of the best fielding teams in baseball, ranked 11th in the league in fielding at the end of the week (.978).
Murray, a three-time Gold Glove winner at first base, has 10 errors already, as does shortstop Ripken.
One of Baltimore's biggest offensive surprises has been the production from the third basemen, Wayne Gross and rookie Fritz Connally, who are one-two on the team in on-base percentage. Gross continues to lead the team in walks, and has 13 hits in his last 38 at bats to push his on-base percentage to .399. Connally's percentage is .375.
Two things Baltimore hoped to use to its advantage were 18 home games in 21 days, and 25 consecutive games against its American League East Division rivals. But the Orioles were 9-9 in those home games and so far are 4-8 in the intradivision games.