The day began with the Baltimore Orioles leaving their Tampa hotel without bats, balls and caps. That was, more or less, the high point.

When the bats arrived, the game started.

When the game started, the Orioles looked bad again, losing a 7-4 decision to the Chicago White Sox.

That's 11 losses in 17 exhibition games, and the team's style has been worse than its results. In 1984, the Orioles didn't hit, but had great pitching. In 1985, they didn't pitch, but had great hitting.

In 1986, they hoped to combine extremes of both, and they have -- a team ERA of 4.35, a batting average of .225 and 23 errors in 17 games.

Where Manager Earl Weaver had hoped for a first-place team this spring, he's gotten another fifth-place one.

"I am concerned," he said. "We've got to start looking like we can win, and right now we don't. What I'm most concerned about is that we haven't had that many good pitching performances, and pitching was the problem last year."

For now, Weaver can live with an offense that has had outfielder Mike Young and first baseman Eddie Murray for only seven games apiece.

For now, he can live with his defense, mainly because second baseman Alan Wiggins has strung five good games together after getting a tongue-lashing from both Weaver and General Manager Hank Peters last week.

What he can't live with is the pitching, which has, give or take a Mike Boddicker or Mike Flanagan start or two, been awful.

That's because the Orioles based all their hopes for 1986 on their pitching staff bouncing back, and with less than two weeks remaining in spring training, the pitching is no better.

"We should be getting two good pitching performances in every three starts," Weaver said. "Instead, we're getting one good one out of every three or one out of every four. I'm happy they're getting the work, but damn it, I want to see some zeros on the scoreboard."

He doesn't even seem to know where to start. Left-hander Scott McGregor has been in the bullpen working on some problems with his delivery, which is causing the ball to flatten out.

A bigger worry is that McGregor, 32, has lost the pinpoint control that helped him go 78-38 from 1979 to 1983. There is an even greater fear that he has lost a couple miles per hour from a fast ball that was not a sizzler to begin with, and that his change-up and fast ball are so similar that both are ineffective.

That was the problem a year ago when McGregor allowed 34 home runs, and he already has been tagged for four in four starts this spring.

"I'm working on some mechanical things," he said. "I'll know when I get it back, and I've had good enough velocity that I can get it back."

Then there is Storm Davis, who was tagged for 10 hits (two home runs) and six runs in six innings today and ran his spring ERA to 4.76.

"I like the way he's throwing," Weaver said. "I just hope he starts getting some people out."

Always a puzzle, Davis has better pitches than 75 percent of the rest of the American League, according to scouts. That includes an excellent fast ball, a very good curve and a decent enough slider.

Each year, the Orioles hope he'll finally give them what Jim Palmer, his idol, gave them. Each year, he doesn't, and last winter, the Orioles stopped wondering and almost traded him to Seattle for third baseman Jim Presley (the Mariners rejected the deal).

If the Orioles are worried, Davis is not.

"I'm pleased," he said. "I've been making good pitches that have hit the spots I want them to hit. I can't complain. Someone back home looks at the numbers, 'You're satisfied?' But this is what spring training is for, and I'm getting a good workout.

"I made some bad pitches on the home runs, but overall, it wasn't bad at all."

Weaver disagrees.

"The first time through their batting order, he got them out with fast balls and curve balls," Weaver said, "then they started waiting on those pitches. When that happens, he's got to adjust, and he didn't."

Meanwhile, the other three starters, Flanagan, Boddicker and Ken Dixon, have looked good enough for long stretches that Weaver has something to base hope on.

He also has hope in the bullpen, where left-handers Tippy Martinez and Brad Havens and short man Don Aase have all been excellent.

The other problem has been defense, but, if the pitching doesn't come around, no one will remember how bad the defense was.

After running some different combinations through his mind, Weaver said he'll definitely open the season with the same group that finished 1985 -- Murray, shortstop Cal Ripken, third baseman Floyd Rayford and second baseman Wiggins.

Although Ripken has made four errors -- as many as Wiggins -- it is Wiggins who worries the Orioles, both because his work habits aren't the greatest and because he still looks like an outfielder trying to convert to the infield.

After a horrible streak early last week, he talked with Weaver and Peters and was told, in short: You're about to lose your job. Since then, he has played very well and started to hit, going four for 15 with three stolen bases in the last four games.

"It comes down to concentration for me," he said. "After last week, I'm not going to take any play for granted. I want to make all the easy ones, and as many of the tough ones as I can. It's the easy ones that have given me more trouble."

"I know this: I played second for a pennant winner in 1984 San Diego , and, if we lose the pennant this year, I don't think I'll be the reason. We've got a better team here now than the Padres had in '84."

Weaver agrees. He just hasn't seen it yet.

After allowing no runs in seven innings, Davis has not been hit for nine in his last 10 . . . Young is seven for 17 in three games since recovering from a bruised palm and; he hit his first spring home run today . . . The Orioles had a 3-0 lead thanks to homers by Young and Fred Lynn and a triple and single by Rick Dempsey and Jackie Gutierrez . . . But in the third through sixth innings, the White Sox got six runs on nine hits off Davis, inluding homers by first baseman Greg Walker and catcher Joel Skinner.