Orioles pitching keeps sputtering on all cylinders and no one can say why


BOSTON -- A crisis is the Orioles starting 26-year-old rookie Richie Lewis in the second game of a doubleheader last night at Fenway Park -- after wasting a Mike Mussina start and losing the first game.

A crisis is Todd Frohwirth standing in the clubhouse between games, shaking his head and saying, "I don't know what's gone wrong."

A crisis is Alan Mills coming out of the bullpen to make his third career start today because manager Johnny Oates has no other choice.

Proclaiming the Orioles in crisis might sound extreme with two months left in the season, but can you name one area of the Orioles' pitching on which Oates can depend right now?

Not the rotation. Mussina, Ben McDonald and Rick Sutcliffe have won six of their past 33 starts.

Not the short relievers. They wasted five late-game leads in July, including one to the Red Sox in the first game yesterday, with Frohwirth featured as the torch-lighter.

Not the middle relievers. Storm Davis has basically disappeared because of a sore heel and Mills is now being considered for the rotation, and, well, there is just no there there.

One by one, these areas have become more and more troublesome for Oates. First it was the starters, then the bullpen, now everything. The truth is that, except for Mills and Mike Flanagan, no pitcher on the staff is faring as well as earlier in the season. Does that sound like the start of a run at the Blue Jays?

Understand, we're not talking about a fast decline, but more of an ebbing.

The Orioles' pitchers are still ranked a reasonable seventh in the league in ERA, above Oakland among others, but they have been bumping along for six weeks now, and the team has a 19-23 record that won't get much better until the pitching does.

The first game yesterday confirmed that you could add Mussina and Frohwirth to the list of the troubled, although, of course, everything is relative. Mussina allowed only two runs in six innings, which is fine, but he got tired early and hit hard, and it is two weeks now since he won. He just isn't the killer kid he was before the All-Star break. Frohwirth, who got clobbered in a five-run seventh, is a bigger concern. In his past four appearances he is 0-2 with nine runs allowed.

"That exploding sinkerball he had that was simply overmatching people last year, [but] we just haven't seen it consistently this year," Oates said. "He doesn't have the same velocity as a year ago."

Frohwirth, who throws a spinning, underhanded ball that is supposed to drop, admits he is baffled.

"If I keep my fingers behind the ball and throw a fastball, it has to go down," he said, demonstrating a knowledge of physics, "but it isn't happening. I wish I knew why. I would go out and fix it."

His 70 2/3 innings is second in the league among relievers, butFrohwirth laughs at the notion that he is tired. "This isn't even hard work for me," he said. "It's something else. What, I don't know."

Neither does Mussina, who is not pitching poorly, just not up to the high standard he set in the first half of the season. That standard was unrealistic -- he didn't have one bad game -- but it is a concern that his arm is getting tired early in games.

Yesterday, he came off the field after the sixth inning and said to pitching coach Dick Bosman: "If you want me to go on, I will, but I'm beat."

Said Oates: "Taking him out hadn't even crossed my mind."

The Sox scored five runs in the next inning.

"I'm getting arm-weary too quickly," Mussina said. "I don't know the reason."

A crisis is when all your pitchers seem to be using the phrase "I don't know . . . ."

Anyway, everything is a mess. Lewis came up from Rochester to start last night because there was no one else available, even though he had pitched only once in 24 days, and when he walked three and gave up two runs in the first, Oates couldn't bring in Mills because Mills is starting today. So Oates stuck with Lewis, who did last until the fifth with a 4-2 lead before a home run and his fifth and sixth walks ended his night.

Storm Davis came on and got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam, which proved to be a game-winner when rain stopped play in the sixth. Winning with Lewis making his first major-league start was a bonus. One crisis survived.

But this was a doubleheader split with 10 runs allowed in 14 innings. Not pretty. Oates has been talking about the importance of escaping this cycle of mediocrity and forming a winning streak, and the club is 3-2 on this trip against the out-of-it Yankees and Sox, but you can't form a winning streak with such formless pitching. Unless that changes, the rain falling on Fenway made for a perfect metaphor: a team stuck in the mud.

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