Orioles showing signs, but 1 of them is caution


TORONTO -- Optimism, particularly for a team that has played the way the Orioles have for the first 60 games, can be a dangerous commodity, especially when it masks the problem areas.

And although beating the Toronto Blue Jays two of three times, as they did here this weekend, certainly counts for something, there have been other hopeful moments in this season to remember that have quickly been forgotten.

In fact, the Orioles, who blasted the Blue Jays 13-8 in the SkyDome yesterday, saw this movie two weeks ago, as they took three of four from then first-place Boston in Fenway Park, before getting swept by Kansas City and Minnesota and splitting a four-game set with Toronto last weekend at Memorial Stadium.

So, you'll kindly pardon Orioles manager John Oates if he doesn't break out the champagne after this win, no matter how big it may seem.

"We don't have any reason to get flat," said Oates. "We won two ballgames, and we're 4-6 in our last 10. We haven't done anything yet."

Maybe the Orioles haven't done anything yet, but yesterday they looked pretty good doing it, and the way a couple of them looked may cause Oates to stop looking in other directions.

It still may be early, but reliever Todd Frohwirth, third baseman Leo Gomez and catcher Bob Melvin took big steps over the weekend to nailing down key spots with the club.

Joe Orsulak produced a pinch-hit grand slam to break the game open, Randy Milligan scored four runs and Cal Ripken had his fifth consecutive multiple-hit game, but Frohwirth, who has become the team's most dependable set-up reliever, was the star.

Frohwirth, who had a brief rocky passage after stonewalling opponents for 8 1/3 innings after his call-up from Rochester, was handed the ball in the worst of circumstances and made the best of it.

Paul Kilgus, who had come on when starter Jose Mesa couldn't " hold a 7-3 lead, left Frohwirth with an 8-8 tie in the sixth and the go-ahead run at third with one out and Joe Carter hitting.

This was the same Joe Carter who lit up Orioles pitching during the weekend for two home runs, three doubles, two singles and six RBIs and Oates admitted the thought of an intentional walk crossed his mind.

But he let the sinkerballer work to Carter, and Frohwirth struck him out. He then walked Rance Mulliniks, but got John Olerud to ground out to end the threat.

Orsulak then hit his first career grand slam to cap a five-run rally in the seventh, but Frohwirth's heroics undoubtedly gave the Orioles a lift.

"You've got to give Frohwirth some credit," said Oates. "We've thrown him [Carter] some nasty pitches and he's just hit the heck out of them.

"He [Frohwirth] makes so many good pitches that when he makes a bad one, it doesn't hurt you."

A decidedly low-key Frohwirth said he thinks he's "thrown better" than yesterday's three-inning stint that yielded one hit, one walk, two strikeouts and his first win of the season.

In fact, he thought Carter probably would be his last batter with the lefthanded-hitting Mulliniks coming up.

"I had a good sinker and they just hit it at people," said Frohwirth. "When I don't make a perfect pitch, I'm still keeping it down and it's not leaving the park."

For a team that hasn't seen a starter complete seven innings in 13 games, that's not an invaluable commodity.

Melvin, of course, is the team's best defensive catcher and has the confidence of most of the young starting pitchers, but his bat has left a little to be desired.

But this weekend, Melvin let it be known that his bat could carry as much weight as his glove, as he went 6-for-8 (5-for-5 Saturday) with a home run, a double and four singles to raise his batting average from .235 to .280.

Oates has said he was looking for a catcher to step up and take over the job on a daily basis.

Chris Hoiles, who got a start at designated hitter yesterday after missing six games with a stiff back, was hitting just 5-for-31 his last 12 games, and Oates has said he wants Ernie Whitt to get spot starts, spelling the regular catcher in a day game after a night contest.

Then there's Gomez, who lost the third base showdown with Craig Worthington in spring training, only to prevail one-third of the way through the season.

Gomez has hit safely in all 10 games since being called up June 6 from Triple A Rochester for a .359 average, including a two-run homer in the third and an RBI single in the seventh yesterday.

His play afield has been solid, and while Oates won't say it in so many words, Gomez may have sealed the fate of Worthington, who is on a rehabilitation assignment at Rochester.

"The way he's playing right now, you don't make a switch," said Oates. "He's had a lot of quality at-bats and he's played well in the field."

He said it would be "tough" to have both on the ballclub because they each play only one position and Oates wants to carry 11 pitchers.

And so when Worthington's 20-day assignment ends, Oates and possibly general manager Roland Hemond will have a decision to make.

"I told Worthy that both of them belong in the big leagues, but I can only play one of them," said Oates. "I told him to put the pressure on us. If he goes down there and falls flat on his face, then you take the pressure off us."

But those are all the problems of a team on the rise. Whether the Orioles become that remains to be seen and the proof comes immediately, as they meet the scalding-hot Twins, winners of 15 straight, beginning tonight (7:35, HTS) at Memorial Stadium.

"It's got to be in our favor playing them now," Oates said of the Twins. "They're due for a loss."

Watch that optimism, John. There's still a long way to go.

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