This is how badly things are going for pitcher Mike Oquist: The ceiling tiles at Seattle's Kingdome didn't begin falling until after he got belted around by the Mariners in the opening game of their series with the Orioles.
The rest of the games were postponed because the facility was deemed unsafe until repairs could be made. But not in time to spare Oquist, who must feel as though the roof is caving in each time he takes the mound.
There was Tuesday's miserable showing against the Cleveland Indians, when he lasted 2 2/3 innings and was charged with five runs in a 9-2 loss. And then, news yesterday that he was being optioned to Triple-A Rochester to make room for reliever Armando Benitez, who had been pitching at Double-A Bowie.
He was informed of his demotion shortly before 4:30 p.m. after meeting with manager Johnny Oates, general manager Roland Hemond and assistant general managers Doug Melvin and Frank Robinson.
"They told me to go down there and work on some things, get into some sort of rhythm or groove," said Oquist, 26, who is scheduled to start Saturday for the Red Wings.
"I'm very disappointed, more so that I didn't do the job. Being a rookie, I wanted to help the team out. It's a tough situation, but the kind you want to be in.
"The biggest part was not performing up to what I'm capable of. That's most disappointing to me. I know I can pitch up here."
He hasn't been able to show it enough to avert a trip to the minors.
Oquist didn't get a decision in Seattle on July 18 -- he left with the score tied 3-3 -- but it had to feel like a loss. In 3 1/3 innings, he gave up seven hits, three walks and three earned runs.
He pitched one inning in relief against the Oakland Athletics on Saturday, allowing one run.
His latest start was just as puzzling to Oquist as the others. He made some good pitches to Cleveland's Manny Ramirez with the bases loaded and two out in the first inning, but the rookie outfielder fouled them off. Oquist then hung a slider and Ramirez doubled in three runs.
"I'm one pitch away from getting out of the inning," he said.
He gave up a home run to Albert Belle in the third. Two singles later, he was gone.
Oquist is 2-0 with a 0.96 ERA when working in relief, but as the fifth starter, he's 1-3 with five no-decisions and an 8.62 ERA.
"I have no idea why I didn't pitch well as a starter. I wish I could put my finger on it, but I can't explain it, he said.
"Coming out of the pen [after warming up Tuesday], I felt great. It just didn't work out."
Pitching coach Dick Bosman said Oquist's problems are no different than most pitchers when they are struggling. His location is poor, he isn't getting his breaking ball over consistently and he's falling behind in the count.
"That makes for a lot of long days -- or short days, in this case," Bosman said.
And whether you're starting or relieving, "you've got to have decent command of your stuff," Bosman added.
Oquist left Tuesday's game early, but he threw too many pitches (60) to be used in relief these next couple of days, necessitating yesterday's roster move.
As Oquist cleaned out his locker, reliever Mark Eichhorn stood next to him and talked of the difficult role the rookie had to fill.
"That's one of the toughest jobs, swinging back and forth [from starter to reliever]," he said. "There's no set pattern; there never is."
Oquist had begun the season in Rochester before being called up April 25. At the time, he was 3-0 with a 1.65 ERA as a starter.
He doesn't see why he can't put up similar numbers again, which could lead to another chance with the Orioles.
"I'll be back," he said.