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Turning over new leaf, Orioles rake Mariners, 8-2


Shaking up your lineup is one thing. Blowing it up and starting over is another, something the Orioles have done since the start of the season.

Before Mike Mussina beat Seattle, 8-2, yesterday, backed by five Orioles homers -- two by Jeff Manto, one each by Brady Anderson, Kevin Bass and Cal Ripken -- the Orioles made their fourth and fifth roster changes since last Friday.

That's 20 percent of the team, turned over in a week. The Orioles designated reliever Brad Pennington for assignment, effectively severing ties with the left-hander. They demoted rookie right-hander Armando Benitez to Triple-A Rochester, and they purchased the contracts of relievers Terry Clark and Mark Lee from the Red Wings.

Tonight, Scott Klingenbeck starts in place of Sid Fernandez, placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday with a strained muscle underneath his left collarbone.

Don't forget all the changes that have taken place since the start of the season. Jack Voigt, traded to Texas. Damon Buford, Arthur Rhodes and Sherman Obando, all demoted. Jeff Manto has taken over third base from Leo Gomez. Curtis Goodwin has been installed as the everyday center fielder. It appears as though Manny Alexander has taken the second base job from Bret Barberie. Jamie Moyer has replaced Rhodes in the rotation.

What has emerged is a team very different from the one that departed Florida and won 11 of its first 29 games. Orioles manager Phil Regan says he likes how the team is evolving.

"I really think we're starting to play better," he said. "We've played well in seven of the last eight games."

The Orioles have won six of their past nine, and have improved their team batting average from .246 on May 25 to .261, through yesterday's game. They've hit 13 homers in the first seven games of this homestand. For the first time all year, three of the five starters in their rotation are pitching well -- Mussina, Kevin Brown and Ben McDonald.

The biggest problem in the last two weeks has been the bullpen, and Regan said he thinks the promotions of Clark and Lee will help.

"I think we've strengthened our club," said Regan, "especially in our bullpen."

The addition of Goodwin and Alexander to the lineup gives the Orioles potential base stealers at second and in center field, meaning that every hitter in the order has either above-average power or speed -- or, in the case of Brady Anderson and Jeffrey Hammonds, both.

Bass said he thinks that Goodwin, who had two more hits yesterday, has been a pivotal addition. "He's added a new dimension to the lineup," Bass said. "It's kind of remarkable that one guy could get you moving the right way.

"Plus, too, Jeffrey [Hammonds] is doing so well. The addition of Curtis helps, but Jeffrey being Jeffrey is making a big difference."

a,4 As Bass said, when the Orioles get production from Hammonds, who usually hits fifth or sixth, and Goodwin or Alexander at the bottom of the order, "that hides a guy like [Manto]. They kind of have a lull when he bats, and the next thing you know, the ball is up in the seats."

There were lots of balls in the seats yesterday.

First inning. Leadoff hitter Anderson. Gone, over the right-field wall, his seventh of the year.

First inning. Bass, right after Anderson. Gone, a 409-foot shot that carried onto Eutaw Street.

Salomon Torres was still pitching in the third inning, when Ripken blasted a bases-empty shot to left-center field, his fifth. Torres threw down the rosin bag in frustration.

Torres settled down -- for about two hitters. Harold Baines walked and Chris Hoiles flied out before Manto crushed the first of his two homers, a tremendous shot into the left-center-field seats.

There is blowing up and starting over. This was just blowing up.

Finally, after Baines doubled home Ripken with one out in the seventh inning, Manto reached out and poked another two-run homer.

Mussina (5-3) allowed five hits and two runs, walked one and struck out six over eight innings, and afterward he talked about how he thinks the team is coming together emotionally, as well. A guy comes into the dugout, and whether he does well or poorly, he'll get encouragement from other players.

"We're trying more," Mussina said. "I'm trying more."

Less than two months into the year, the Orioles are undergoing a physical and emotional reconstruction, sitting eight games behind first-place Boston.

The questions are: Will the changes make a difference? And even if they do, have the Orioles lost too much ground to the Red Sox?

Stay tuned.

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