Newcomers offer relief to pitching-parched O's


SEATTLE -- Who are these guys, where have they been and what took them so long to get here?

First impressions might not always be the most conclusive, but based on what happened here last night the Orioles could have used Jim Poole and Stacy Jones a long time ago.

Unfortunately, by the time the first wave of evidence was completed the Orioles had been trashed again, 8-2 by the Seattle Mariners.

Yesterday was a day that began for the Orioles with a purge of the pitching staff and ended with manager John Oates trying to see a glimmer of hope in the performances of Poole and Jones. "The kids were a refreshing change," said Oates after the two newest Orioles combined for six scoreless innings.

But it says a lot about a team when you can find a ray of hope in an 8-2 loss, and Oates' mood was not very good.

Before the game he had said "we might not be finished yet," an indication that the dismissal of starters Jeff Ballard and Jeff Robinson and reliever Paul Kilgus might only be the start.

"I said it before the game and I'm saying it after the game -- we might not be finished," said Oates. "If the shoe fits wear it -- if it doesn't, then change it.

"If that's putting on extra pressure, so be it. If I'm putting pressure on a guy -- that's tough. If you can't play under pressure, then you can't play in the big leagues."

The Orioles shook up their roster yesterday with the three deletions and the additions of Poole, Jones and last year's No. 1 draft pick, Mike Mussina, who will assume the vacancy in the starting rotation.

Oates said that, as far as he knew, the Orioles had "nothing on the front burner" as the trading deadline approaches (midnight tonight), and doubted that any other moves were imminent. But he left no doubt there will likely be more changes, even before the 40-man roster limit goes into effect Sept. 1.

He admitted that lefthander Arthur Rhodes, currently pitching at Hagerstown, was one of the players he was anxious to see. "If I'm going to be here next year, there are people I want to see," he said. "We've got some decisions to make and we might be able to see enough this year to help us over the winter."

Oates takes full responsibility for the decision to replace Ballard, Robinson and Kilgus on the roster. "I'm the one who introduced )) the discussion," he said. "Those three guys are not responsible for this team being where it is. We as an organization are responsible and take the blame.

"They are not scapegoats. They are not responsible -- but they were part of it."

The two newcomers who arrived yesterday both admitted to being surprised at their callup, but wasted no time making a quick impression. After giving up a single to Alvin Davis on his first pitch, Poole retired 10 straight hitters, striking out six in the process.

Jones, a teammate and roommate of Gregg Olson at Auburn University, followed with two hitless and scoreless innings that included a pair of strikeouts.

"I had no inkling at all that this might happen," said Poole. "In fact, I was just hoping to have a good month in August so maybe I would be called up in September."

Jones had an identical reaction. "It [a callup] was in the back of my mind I guess," said the 6-foot-6, 225-pound righthander. "But I had no idea really. No idea it might be this soon. I thought maybe if I kept throwing the way I was that I might get up here in September."

Poole had a taste of the big leagues with the Dodgers last year and the Rangers this year (16 2/3 innings total), but for Jones the big-league atmosphere was a new experience.

"To tell you the truth, I was real nervous until I got here and saw Gregg," said Jones, 4-2 with a 2.36 ERA and seven saves for Rochester. "He talked to me in the bullpen and we went over the hitters and that calmed me down a little bit."

It was only recently that Jones entered the Orioles' thinking as far as this year is concerned, but Poole had been discussed for almost a month. "We rely on what our people down there [the minor leagues] tell us," said Oates. "When his name came up a few weeks ago, the feeling was that he should stay there a little longer."

Acquired on waivers from Texas May 31, Poole was optioned to Rochester where he was 3-2 with nine saves and a 2.79 earned run average. Although he's not overpowering, the lefthander has averaged almost a strikeout per inning during his professional career.

"Both of them have excellent strikeout-walk ratios," said Oates. "Both of them have been used in short roles at Rochester, but we'll break them in as setup men for the guys we've been using."

Judging by the way things have been going for the Orioles, neither of the newcomers will lack for work. Last night marked the 31st time this year that the Orioles fell behind by at least three runs before the fourth inning. That represents almost one-third of the number of games played to date (99) and a rather severe indictment of the starting rotation.

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