Devil Rays 2, Orioles 0

Reprinted from Friday's editions

-- If the Baltimore Orioles are having nightmares of late as they sleep, visited in their dreams by an army of evil monsters, devils, mothers-in-law or umpires, one can be sure the bogeymen in question have one thing in common: They are all left-handed.

After being rousted out of their restless sleep for a rare 12:15 p.m. start Friday, the Orioles made yet another undistinguished left-handed pitcher look like Sandy Koufax. This time, it was journeyman John Halama of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who shut them out on three hits over eight innings in the Orioles' 2-0 loss at Tropicana Field.

After flailing away helplessly against Halama for the better part of two hours, the Orioles were equally powerless to explain how an offensive-minded team with plenty of solid right-handed hitters can be 9-20 this season in games started by lefties.

"Nope. Hmm-mmm," said Manager Lee Mazzilli, when asked if there was a suitable explanation. "I can't answer that. I have no idea."

"I don't have an answer for that right now," said hitting coach Terry Crowley.

"I don't know what to make of it, to tell the truth," said second baseman Brian Roberts. "It's just an odd thing."

After scratching out just three singles against Halama -- one of which never left the infield, and one of which was a bad-hop grounder -- the Orioles (38-49) find themselves hitting just .245 this season against left-handed pitching, second-worst in the league. By contrast, they are hitting a league-best .294 against right-handed pitching and are 29-29 in games started by right-handers.

"It seems," Roberts said, "like a pretty odd coincidence."

And it's not as if the lefties beating the Orioles are Warren Spahn and Steve Carlton. Halama (5-3) is in his fourth organization in seven years and carried a modest 49-40 career record into Friday's start.

Among the other southpaw starters who have beaten the Orioles in the last five weeks are Jimmy Gobble (who was 4-6 before facing the Orioles at the time), Mark Hendrickson (who was 5-6), Darrell May (5-9), Jeff Fassero (0-6) and Casey Fossum (0-4).

"There was a time when I could tell you there were some real good left-handers beating us -- guys like [Arizona's Randy] Johnson and [Philadelphia's Eric] Milton," Crowley said. "Now, it just seems like guys are making fantastic pitches against us from the first inning to end of the game. I could count on one hand the number of pitches [Halama threw] toward the middle of the plate."

The victim of Friday's ineptitude was Orioles rookie starter Erik Bedard -- himself a lefty -- who left with two outs in the seventh inning having only allowed a pair of runs on seven hits. Both runs came in the third, when Rocco Baldelli lined a high fastball into the left field corner for an RBI double, then Aubrey Huff followed with a flared RBI single into right.

"I didn't feel [as good as] I usually do," Bedard said. "But I was still able to throw strikes. . . . [The pitch to Baldelli] was where I wanted it. He hit a good pitch. He's a good hitter."

As he watched between innings, Bedard said he expected his offense -- which ranks in the upper half of the league, overall -- to supply him with some run-support at any moment. But it never came.

Halama did not allow an Orioles runner beyond second base, and their only real scoring threat against him -- in the second inning, when Rafael Palmeiro and David Newhan collected consecutive one-out singles -- fizzled when Luis Matos flied out weakly to right and Larry Bigbie struck out to end the inning.

That was fitting, as Matos (.141) and Bigbie (.161) are the two prominent Orioles who are struggling the most against left-handed pitching. Matos, in fact, last got a hit off a lefty on June 30, against Kansas City's Brian Anderson.

Asked specifically about Matos and whether there was any course of action being considered, Mazzilli said: "I don't know yet. We're thinking about it. I don't know. . . . You have to let things happen. You can't force it."

Third baseman Melvin Mora's scheduled return from the disabled list on Sunday affords the Orioles an opportunity to rid themselves of Matos. Mora's return means hot-hitting David Newhan will need a new position. Conceivably, Newhan could move to left field, with Bigbie shifting to center field in place of Matos.

Beyond that, what exactly can the Orioles do? Crowley suggested they would take advantage of the fact they have two left-handed batting practice pitchers -- Vince Horsman and Sam Snyder -- who travel with the team. "We're going to do some extra hitting," he said, "off our left-handed BP pitchers."

At this point, however, those BP pitchers might be able to get the Orioles out.