Just when it seemed things could get no worse for the road-weary Baltimore Orioles, they did. After landing in Baltimore yesterday following a cruel nine-game West Coast trip, the club learned that first baseman Randy Milligan's "bruised" shoulder was actually a mild separation and announced they would place him on the 15-day disabled list today, retroactive to last Friday.
Charles Silberstein found the separation, which did not appear in X-rays taken in Oakland after Milligan slammed into A's catcher Ron Hassey on Aug. 7. The club will wait until Friday's home game against the A's to announce who will fill Milligan's spot on the roster.
The news from Silberstein was not all bad. Second baseman Bill Ripken's right foot has healed sufficiently for him to resume workouts before Friday night's game and come off the DL as expected on Monday.
Also, pitcher Bob Milacki, currently on the disabled list, is "making good progress," and pitcher Dave Johnson will not require time on the DL. Johnson's back spasms, Silberstein confirmed, are just the result of a mild strain. He will be evaluated daily.
If the Orioles are a paranoid bunch these days, it's because everything seems to be going against them. About the only causes for optimism on the 3-6 road trip were Ben McDonald, the forgiving nature of the American League East and the knowledge that the fates probably can't be any more unkind to them.
The bad news from Silberstein put the appropriate finishing touches on the trouble-filled road swing in which the Orioles lost two games in the standings. Manager Frank Robinson had said he'd like to go to Boston for next week's three-game series four or five games behind the first-place Red Sox. But that now would mean gaining two or three games during a weekend in which the Orioles (56-60) play AL West-leading Oakland while Boston is matched against fifth-place California.
The Orioles left Baltimore with a five-game deficit and returned seven games behind, but Robinson said there was little consolation in the thought that the situation could be worse. "It was not a good trip, period," he said following Wednesday's 2-0 defeat to the Seattle Mariners, giving Baltimore two losses in three games at each city it visited. "It is an uphill climb from here. It has been for quite a while. It's a struggle."
Baltimore scored 28 runs on the trip, with 11 coming in one game against the sagging Mark Langston and the Angels. The Orioles were no match for the Mariners' staff, with four runs and 15 hits in three games.
They have one home run in 96 innings and seven extra-base hits in their last seven games (opponents have 26). They've been outhomered, 13-1, in the last 10 games. Aside from the 16-hit explosion off Langston and those who followed him to the mound Sunday, Baltimore hit .206 on the road trip.
Each Mariners starter threw a complete game against them, stretching the rotation's remarkable string of working into the seventh inning or beyond to 33 times in 35 games. The Orioles scored one run in their final 23 innings here.
Tim Hulett was one for 14, Mike Devereaux two for 23, Chris Hoiles one for 10, Ron Kittle two for 15, and Brady Anderson and Sam Horn each three for 17. Mickey Tettleton is four for his last 27 and has one home run and six RBI in his last 40 games; he already has struck out a team-record 126 times.
"This might've been the best starting pitching we've seen in a series this year," Devereaux said of the Mariners. "But on the other hand, it might just be us making them look good."
Said Robinson: "We had a lot to do with it. We're not swinging the bats very well. . . . There's not much you can do. You can't make people hit, and you can't make people pitch better."
Or feel better. The club's rash of injuries started just before the trip and accelerated once it began. Milligan was injured on the first day away from home, Kittle suffered a groin pull the day he was traded, and Johnson continued to feel pain in his lower back.
Johnson refused to use his back as an excuse for failing to survive the third inning of his start Tuesday, but he conceded he felt stiffness on the mound for the first time since he was injured two weeks ago. He's scheduled to pitch Sunday against the Athletics, if he's able.
The Orioles have only nine pitchers, and Johnson's injury could endanger plans to use a four-man starting rotation. Milacki will throw today, and if everything goes well he could start at Boston on Tuesday, the first day he's eligible to be activated.
Milligan's loss leaves the Orioles even thinner at first base. Kittle pinch-hit Wednesday and may resume full-time duties this weekend. But the instability at first base -- the Orioles used six players there on the road trip, more than they've had in a season since 1985 -- apparently will continue at least until the club announces Milligan's replacement. David Segui, who had a stint with the Orioles in May, is a good bet.
There were some bright spots on the trip. Rene Gonzales had eight hits and five RBI, two fewer than his total for the year when the trip began. Jeff McKnight played four positions and reached base 10 times in 19 plate appearances. And, of course, there was McDonald, the 22-year-old rookie who won twice in the nine days and seems to get better with each outing.
"He's as good a young pitcher as you're ever going to find," Mariners Manager Jim Lefebvre said.
When the Orioles battled the Toronto Blue Jays until the final series last year, they were 18-5 after Aug. 17 in games started by Milacki or Jeff Ballard. Now Milacki is on the disabled list and Ballard is in the bullpen.
In their place, however, McDonald, Johnson and John Mitchell -- who totaled eight major league wins entering the season -- have gone 21-12; they have won 13 of their last 17 starts.
So even with the A's coming to town and an injury-depleted roster to peruse, Robinson insisted he remains optimistic. "I look at it like our situation could get better," he said. "I like to look at the positive."