It is somehow fitting that Scott Erickson pitches for the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday, the first day of July. July is the month of truth in baseball: the month of the trading deadline (the 31st), the month of decision for teams such as the Orioles, who have been unable to escape a downward spiral.
Erickson presents one of the Orioles' most interesting decisions. A little more than a year ago, the Orioles were so sure of Erickson's future with the team that they signed him to a five-year, $32 million contract extension.
A year later, Erickson has struggled to the worst first half of his career. Entering Thursday's start, he is 3-8 with a 6.66 earned run average. Batters are hitting .322 against him. His ineffectiveness has been one of the great mysteries of this season.
With July here and the Orioles inching closer to the cellar than to the lead in the American League East, they are likely to search for a way to move Erickson.
However, Erickson's hefty contract and poor record are strong deterrents, and he has a limited no-trade clause. The Los Angeles Dodgers have expressed interest, but the word around baseball is that Erickson has gone from being a pitcher worth two top prospects to one who is worth one.
At that price, the Orioles might keep Erickson and hope he rediscovers the form that helped him win 16 games each of the past two seasons.
"He'll get it going," Manager Ray Miller said. "I haven't lost faith in Scotty."
During a bullpen session on Tuesday, Erickson and pitching coach Bruce Kison, having watched reels of videotape of Erickson's mechanics from last year and this season, worked on Erickson's stretch delivery, trying to get him back to his 1998 form and return the sink to his sinker.
"They made some headway," Miller said. "We'll see."
As the organization ponders what to do with Erickson, Miller said he has even considered trying Erickson as a reliever.
"But for him to go to the bullpen, he needs a sinker," Miller said. "That's the one thing missing. He has to throw it. Yeah, I've thought about it. We've used him there in the past [one appearance each in 1995 and 1997]. . . . Scotty would love to be a closer because he could pitch every day. But he's been a pretty good starter until this period now." . . .
The New York Yankees will start David Cone, Orlando Hernandez, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte in the four games against the Orioles this weekend in New York. The Orioles will use Jason Johnson, Sidney Ponson, Juan Guzman and Mike Mussina.