BALTIMORE, AUG. 26 -- Ron Kittle was booed by the home crowd in Memorial Stadium today, at least until a ninth-inning home run.

The Baltimore Orioles have been restraining themselves of late from a similarly disgruntled evaluation of their new would-be power hitter.

Kittle's four-week Orioles tenure has been injury-plagued and unproductive. He pulled a groin muscle on the day Baltimore acquired him from Chicago in a trade for outfielder Phil Bradley and today was only the second time he has started at first base for Baltimore.

With the Orioles he has six hits in 38 at-bats, with one home run and two RBI. Rarely has he resembled the player who clubbed 156 homers over seven seasons.

He has 17 home runs this year, with today's being the first since July 4. His average has dipped to .235, and the Orioles must decide whether to pick up the option year on the 32-year-old's contract.

Club officials maintain Kittle's injuries have been the leading cause for his recent struggles, and they seem confident he won't cause them to relive last year's Keith Moreland nightmare. Moreland was hitting .300 when he was acquired in the stretch run, but he faltered during his brief stay and retired in the offseason.

"I'm the type of hitter who's capable of getting four or five homers and carrying this team on my back for a week," Kittle said. "With that comes the other side -- I'm going to strike out and have some slumps."

Mesa on Cloud Nine

Pitcher Jose Mesa reported to the Orioles' clubhouse this morning, gushing with excitement about a starting assignment Tuesday that will be his first major league appearance in three years.

The 24-year-old right-hander is another in the lengthy line of pitching prospects that has the Orioles drooling about their rotation of the future -- which may be in place as early as next season. Mesa made six appearances with Baltimore in 1987, going 1-3 with a 6.03 ERA, but has undergone two operations on his pitching elbow since then.

He said today he hasn't lost any velocity on a fastball that has been clocked in the low 90-mph range, but insisted he has become a better pitcher by concentrating more on his slider and change-up. He was promoted three weeks ago from Class AA Hagerstown to AAA Rochester, where he started four games and allowed seven earned runs in 26 innings while registering 23 strikeouts.