Orioles' outlook gets rosier because rivals have thorny pitching woes

BOSTON — BOSTON -- Their No. 2 starter has an ERA of 7.26 in his past six starts and is pitching with a groin injury. They have no fifth starter. Their middle relief is suspect.

Their outstanding rookie right fielder remains on the disabled list, recovering from a strained knee ligament that has kept him out for nearly six weeks and counting.


Their only left-handed bat off the bench is swung by a 29-year-old player called to the majors Friday for the first time, leaving behind his role as a fourth outfielder in Triple-A.

They rank 13th in the league in scoring.


And the Orioles' chances of winning the American League East never have looked better because pitching throughout the division never has looked worse.

A quick tour around the AL East reveals many holes in starting rotations and gas instead of hoses in bullpens:

YANKEES: Xavier Hernandez, acquired from Houston to be the closer, has lost the job, not to mention his forkball. Bob Wickman, throwing harder than in the past, has taken over but still is more suited to a setup role.

Left-hander Terry Mulholland has been a huge disappointment, serving 12 home run pitches in 41 innings. He is a finesse pitcher who thinks he is a power pitcher. Dangerous combination.

Despite a 9-1 record, Jimmy Key has pitched more like a No. 3 starter of late, pitching six or seven shaky innings and turning it over to the bullpen.

Still, with Randy Velarde and Jim Leyritz producing for the league's best bench, and with a strong lineup, the Yankees rank with the Orioles as the teams to beat in the AL East, in that order.

On the plus side, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner has been preoccupied with getting a new stadium, which has kept him from intruding on baseball operations.

BLUE JAYS: Juan Guzman lasted one inning in his last start, forced out of the game by a sore shoulder. Al Leiter lasted 1 1/3 innings in his last start, sidelined by a pulled groin.


Sore-armed closer Duane Ward has been two weeks away for a dozen weeks now. A groin injury continues to nag Dave Stewart. Brad Cornett, 25, an undrafted free agent, is in the shaky rotation, and the Blue Jays' Rookie of the Year candidate is in the minors.

Carlos Delgado was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse, where he will catch. He drove in three runs in the past 21 games. While many still believe Blue Jays general manager Pat Gillick will pull off a signature pennant race trade, consider the possibility the Jays might be on the other end of an August deal this year. Catcher Pat Borders, eligible for free agency at season's end, could be shipped to a contender before the year is out if Toronto fades.

While Delgado is groomed to replace Borders, Mike Huff and Shawn Green will platoon in left. Green, the club's No. 1 draft choice in 1991, hit .381 with eight home runs, 35 RBI and 12 stolen bases at Syracuse.

RED SOX: Suddenly, they have the worst pitching staff in the league.

All at once, nobody not named Roger Clemens can get anybody out. Through Friday night's 10-7 loss to the Orioles, the Red Sox had allowed double digits in six of their past seven games, losing all six. During those six games, the Red Sox allowed 67 runs and 92 hits.

They are done, cooked, cashed, spent, played.


The front office change that took place last winter, Dan Duquette replacing Lou Gorman as general manager, bodes well for the future of an organization that made a practice of dumping gobs of money on players past their prime. Duquette is a sign-and-groom GM, the only way to go.

This year? Not a chance.

TIGERS: They gained 6 1/2 games in two weeks on the Yankees, but their starting pitching, although better than it was early in the season, is bound to have long, deep slumps.

Powerful lineup. Sound bullpen. Suspect starting pitching. Lousy defense. Third place at the very best.

Rangers in opposite directions

The Arlington Stadium fence in left-center was 372 feet from home plate and stood 9 feet high. The Ballpark in Arlington fence in left-center is 390 feet away and 14 feet high.


Juan Gonzalez hit 24 home runs at home last season and has just two this season. The new park is playing with his head.

In contrast, Jose Canseco, a cerebral hitter who never has gotten enough credit for that, instantly recognized the way to take advantage of the new park was to go the other way. He has been hitting home runs to right-center and is close to a pace that would give him 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases, a first since he did so in 1988. Canseco is back, which means Canseco is back referring to himself in the third person.

"It's good to see that Jose Canseco is healthy and can show people what an exciting player he can be," Jose Canseco said.

Heading into the weekend, Canseco had 16 home runs and 54 RBIs. He had 43 walks and 45 strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez recently went 99 at-bats without a home run.

"Sometimes, Juan has trouble believing how good he is," Rangers manager Kevin Kennedy said of Gonzalez, who signed a seven-year, $45.5 million contract that should tell him how good he is.


Gonzalez is feeling the pressure of trying to match the feats of Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey and Frank Thomas.

"I have to prove I belong with them," Gonzalez said.

Another Ripken fan

The Toronto Blue Jays selected shortstop Kevin Witt from Jacksonville, Fla., with their first-round draft choice. Kevin's brother David is the 180th-ranked tennis player in the world.

Kevin Witt is 6 feet 5, on the large side for a shortstop.

"My favorite player was always Cal Ripken," Witt said. "I'm just like him. They said he couldn't play shortstop. They said I couldn't play shortstop. They said we were too tall."


Productive Bo benched

Bo Jackson started the year platooning with Dwight Smith in left field for the California Angels, but the emergence of Rookie of the Year candidate Jim Edmonds has landed both veterans on the bench.

Smith has complained and asked for a trade. Bo has not.

"I've accepted not playing every day," Jackson said. "If that's what Skip wants to do, that's fine. Besides, I'm getting old. I can't be running out there every day."

Jackson, 31, had seven home runs and 28 RBIs in 107 at-bats heading into the weekend.

"People can say what they want about me, but I speak with my actions," Jackson said. "I look at my numbers and I look around the league at guys who play every day and I've got nothing to be ashamed about."


No thanks for the memories

Buck Rodgers survived a near-fatal team bus crash while managing the Angels two years ago. Throughout his tenure as Angels manager, Rodgers, fired last month, conducted himself in classy fashion.

So how did the Angels thank him? They gave his No. 7 to rookie catcher Mark Dalesandro, called up last week to make his major league debut.