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For O's pitching staff, it's damage-control time Tigers specialize in humiliation


If anyone knows the sense of panic that might grip the Orioles pitching staff this weekend in Detroit, it's poor Mike Hampton of the Seattle Mariners.

Hampton, a rookie left-hander, had never pitched above the Double-A level before this season and made his major-league debut April 17 at Tiger Stadium. It took only 2 2/3 innings, four hits and four runs for Hampton to feel the fury of the Detroit attack as the Tigers blasted Seattle, 20-6.

But the Tigers have been presenting this horror show to pitchers with a lot more experience than Hampton, including former Oriole Storm Davis, who was on the receiving end of a 20-4 beating Detroit administered to Oakland earlier that week.

Minnesota's Scott Erickson and Willie Banks have also tasted double-digit Detroit dumpings in the first six weeks of the season.

Now, it's the Orioles' turn to take on the Tigers.

Rick Sutcliffe, who gets the first look at the Tigers tonight, said: "You don't want to look at the games where they're scoring 15 runs every night. They have a lot of ways to come at you and there's really not any way to pitch around anybody in that lineup, so you'd better take your best stuff with you to the mound and try to do the things with which you've had success against them in the past."

The Orioles had a significant amount of success against Detroit last year, winning 10 of 13 and shutting them out three times, the most against one team in a season since 1983. They also batted a season-high .303 against the Tigers.

However, the Tigers, who finished just two games out of last in the American League East, came alive in a June 13 performance, blitzing the Orioles, 15-1, the third-worst beating in club history. In the process, Detroit hitters lit up Mike Flanagan for eight runs in one humiliating inning.

This season, however, Detroit has led the division since April 23, thanks in no small part to a pitching staff that has shaved more than seven-tenths of a run off a team ERA that was last in the league last year.

There might not be a good time this year to face the Tigers, but this might be among the worst for the Orioles, whose offense has gone dry.

After scoring 12 runs in a three-game win streak over Toronto and Boston, the Orioles suffered shutout losses to the Red Sox on Tuesday and Wednesday, the first time in almost 10 years that the team had been blanked in consecutive games.

Wednesday's 2-0 loss to Boston starter Danny Darwin was the latest in a recent string of hard-luck performances for Fernando Valenzuela (0-3), who surrendered only seven hits in his third consecutive impressive performance.

Valenzuela, whose status in the rotation was tenuous after early rocky outings in Texas and Chicago, has bounced back, allowing just 17 hits and seven runs in 23 1/3 innings in his past three starts for an ERA over that span of 2.70.

The left-hander's overall ERA fell to 4.70, the second lowest in the rotation to Mike Mussina's 2.43. Valenzuela, who has not won in the majors since 1990, is the only Orioles starter not to win this year.

"I want to throw bad and win. I'd take it that way," said Valenzuela, with a laugh. "For me, it [his performance] is good. It's my first year after 1990 to come back and that's good for me. It gives me more confidence in myself to have more confidence. We lost the game, but I thought I did a pretty good job. I can use that to do better in the next few games."

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