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Fernandez going, going, maybe gone after 3-homer loss


TORONTO -- Orioles left-hander Sid Fernandez got beat up again last night, giving up three homers in 3 2/3 innings to Toronto, and afterward he said he's thinking about retiring.

"Maybe it's over," he said quietly, in the wake of the Orioles' 5-1 loss to the Blue Jays and Juan Guzman. "Maybe it's done. Maybe it's done and it's time to get out of the way."

Toronto, which hit four homers, broke the Orioles' four-game winning streak and made Fernandez -- making his first Orioles start since June 4 -- a loser for the fourth time this year. He hasn't won a game since last July 15.

"I'm going to talk to my family about [retiring]," said Fernandez, 32, who has a 7.67 ERA. "It's not doing me any good to pitch like this. . . . Obviously, I'm not getting anybody out.

"It's like Jack Morris said [before retiring this year], maybe it's time to read the writing on the wall. This ain't no fun, that's for sure."

Several Orioles said privately they doubted Fernandez would quit, and manager Phil Regan thought Fernandez was probably just discouraged. "I think it's probably just frustration talking," he said. "I'll talk to him tomorrow."

If Fernandez does actually retire, he would be walking away from the

third year of a $10 million contract, but he said that would not be a factor in his decision.

"It's not a money thing," he said. "People will say that's garbage . . . but that's how I feel.

"If I was going seven or eight innings, that would be a different story. I haven't pitched into the sixth inning this year. Well, once I did."

Not last night. Not by a longshot. Regan said before the game that the Orioles needed Fernandez to start pitching better, start winning some games. Especially now, when the Orioles' standing in the AL East is so tenuous (eight games behind the division-leading Boston Red Sox), and when they're missing Kevin Brown and Ben McDonald.

The Orioles were riding a high of the three-game sweep of Milwaukee going into last night, and Fernandez, activated off the disabled list after Wednesday's game, fell into step with his teammates in the first inning.

He looked great. Struck out Alex Gonzalez and Paul Molitor, and retired Roberto Alomar on a weak fly to right. Fernandez would throw a pitch, get the ball back from catcher Chris Hoiles and immediately look in for the sign. He aggressively attacked hitters, threw strikes with his first pitch, just as Regan asked him to do in a short meeting before the game.

The second inning came, and the new Sid disappeared -- although he got help, in a bad way, from Hoiles.

Joe Carter, leading off the second, popped a foul in front of the Orioles' dugout, and Hoiles hustled over, reached up and -- doink -- the ball bounced off his glove.

Next pitch: Gone. Carter hit a high fastball over the left-field fence.

John Olerud struck out. Blue Jays third baseman Ed Sprague followed, and he, too, hammered a homer over the left-field wall. Fernandez wiped sweat off his brow with his elbow as he called for another ball.

He got through the third inning, but Carter opened the fourth with another homer, this on a hanging breaking pitch that was suited for a tee. The Blue Jays led 3-0, and the Orioles' winning streak was, for all intents and purposes, history.

So was Fernandez. Olerud followed Carter's second blast with a single and, two outs later, Mike Huff walked and then Regan walked to the mound, grim-faced, and called for reliever Scott Klingenbeck.

"I thought he threw OK," said Regan. "He was throwing the ball pretty well [for velocity]. It's just that his location was off."

Fernandez's final line: 3 2/3 innings, five hits, three runs (two earned), three homers, one walk and six strikeouts. He hasn't pitched beyond five innings in his seven starts.

Some scouts privately diagnose Fernandez's problems in this way: He has never held runners well in the past, and his control, for the most part, has been erratic throughout his career. But jTC when Fernandez was in his prime, the scouts say, he could compensate for those ills by shooting his rising fastball out of that low delivery, a fastball that was clocked near 90 mph.

Now, however, Fernandez doesn't throw as hard. In his last three starts before going on the disabled list, he had a terrible time trying to finish off hitters. He would get to two strikes and then the opposing hitter would foul off pitches -- many of them straight back. They were making contact with that high fastball that in the past would finish them off.

During his first rehabilitation start for Double-A Bowie, his fastball topped at 84 mph, and by the fifth inning his fastball was never more than 80 mph, a dramatic decline. Fernandez threw harder in his second rehabilitation performance, his fastball consistently in the 84- to 86-mph range. He may need more mph to get by.

What to do with El Sid? Well, the Orioles don't have many options, because his contract doesn't expire until after next season. It's very doubtful anyone would have interest in Fernandez, because of his contract. Regan has said several times that he doesn't think Fernandez could pitch out of the bullpen, which makes some sense, because of the left-hander's deliberate style and inability to hold runners.

So the Orioles really have three choices: Keep him in the starting rotation and hope he gets better; bury him in the depths of the bullpen, pitching him only when a game gets out of hand; or release him.

Regan acknowledged last night that he may think about using Klingenbeck in Fernandez's spot in the rotation.

"I've struggled before," said Fernandez, "but not like this."


Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays

Site: SkyDome, Toronto

Time: 7:35

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Arthur Rhodes (2-2, 6.89) vs. Blue Jays' Pat Hentgen (4-6, 6.30)

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