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Deficits early may mean changes soon


Baltimore Orioles manager John Oates hinted yesterday that some changes might soon be made in the club's beleaguered starting rotation.

"We can't go the rest of the year with our starters going the way they are," Oates said before yesterday's game. "I think that any ++ bright man would conclude that something has to be done."

Orioles starters have fallen behind by at least three runs in the first four innings in seven of the club's past nine games. Jeff Robinson was the latest, but he settled down to pitch a solid 7 2/3 innings.

Still, the pitching situation has reached the critical stage, with the rotation combining for a 9.76 ERA during the past nine games.

Oates wouldn't say what might be done, but he would not rule out the eventual promotion of 1990 No. 1 draft choice Mike Mussina, who has been pitching well for the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings.

"There is going to have to be a change in results or a change in personnel," Oates said. "Something has got to be done. The worst thing that can happen is for us to go out and get behind 6-0 every night."

The next move figures to involve right-hander Ben McDonald, who appears to be about a week away from returning to the major-league rotation.

Mussina seems like the obvious choice if the club decides to bring someone up to fill another slot. He's 5-3 with a 3.54 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 73 2/3 innings.

Oates flirts with ejection

Oates argued vehemently with first-base umpire John Shulock after a questionable check-swing called strike on shortstop Cal Ripken.

Ripken initiated the argument, but was pushed away by teammate Mike Devereaux. Oates took over and engaged in a long and animated argument that seemed certain to result in an ejection. But Shulock put up with it until plate umpire Drew Coble came out to escort Oates back to the dugout.

Inside pitches

Minnesota Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett appeared to believe that starter Jeff Robinson threw at him intentionally in the first inning and seemed ready to charge the mound, but the incident ended peacefully.

Robinson threw a pitch behind Shane Mack before hitting

Puckett on the hip.

"They [the Orioles] were obviously mad about something," Twins manager Tom Kelly said. "Maybe it was because we were running with a 6-0 lead last night [Tuesday]. It seems to me that we were ahead in the ninth on the night before and they came back and beat us. When they got two in the ninth last night, I was glad we had nine runs instead of six."

Robinson did nothing to quell the mini-controversy.

"It's baseball," he said. "Everybody has some pride, and everybody wants a little respect."

McDonald cautioned

McDonald has been told by the Orioles to take himself out of tomorrow night's Class AAA game against the Pawtucket Red Sox if he feels any discomfort from the raised seams of the Wilson minor-league baseballs.

McDonald's arrival in the major-league rotation was delayed last year because he developed a pair of blisters on his pitching hand. The Orioles sent a case of major-league balls to the Red Wings for his workouts last year, but rules prohibit their use during Class AAA games.

"We've told him, if he feels a hot spot, get out of there," Oates said. "If the thing doesn't work out there, he could probably give us four or five innings right now."

Horn ejected

Sam Horn was ejected from yesterday's game for arguing a pitch call with Coble in the fourth inning. It was only the second time this year that an Oriole has been kicked out of a game. The first was May 26, when Mike Flanagan was ejected.

The Horn incident was not connected with the later disagreement between Oates and Shulock.

Tuesday night in review

The Orioles came right back from Monday night's dramatic victory, shook off the euphoria and dropped a 9-2 decision to the Twins.

Right-hander Roy Smith gave up six runs in the first two innings to end a personal three-game winning streak and a similar streak by the club.

Twins right-hander Scott Erickson remained the hottest pitcher in the major leagues, giving up one hit over six innings on the way to his 11th consecutive victory.

Erickson was not particularly sharp. He walked five and gave up a number of hard-hit balls in his shortest outing of the season, but he improved his record to 11-2 and dropped his league-leading ERA to 1.51 at the Orioles' expense.

The game was delayed for nearly two hours by rain, which left the air damp enough to cut down several long fly balls -- two of them by designated hitter Horn.

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