Quiet attack forces Regan's strategic hand


It's not hard to understand why manager Phil Regan is campaigning for a hitter to insert in the middle of the Orioles' lineup.

Before last night's 6-2 victory, the Orioles ranked 11th in the league with 386 runs. That's an average of 4.95 per game, but in the era of inflated scoring, that doesn't cut it.

Either by trade (Bobby Bonilla?) or the return of Chris Hoiles and/or Jeffrey Hammonds as healthy and productive performers, the Orioles must juice up their offense if they are going to contend.

Boston seems intent on allowing every team in the American League East to get into the chase. But the invitation has yet to prompt a response from the Orioles, New York Yankees or Toronto Blue Jays, the three teams expected to compete for the division title.

The Orioles' inability to produce was never more evident than Friday night, when they hit three homers and were able to score only three runs. And on at least two occasions, the Orioles' offensive woes appeared to have a direct effect on Regan's strategy.

In the fourth inning, with the score tied 1-1, Rafael Palmeiro led off with a single. The Orioles were in the middle of their lineup against a pitcher (Mark Gubicza) noted for good stuff -- and mistakes that make him prone to the long ball.

In that situation, Regan decided to try and take advantage of Ripken's ability to hit to right field. With Palmeiro running, Ripken went the other way, but his hard grounder wasn't quite out of the reach of second baseman David Howard and resulted in a double play.

It was the second time in a week that Regan tried to hit-and-run with Palmeiro and Ripken (on the other occasion, Ripken fouled off a pitch and then hit a home run). It's not the kind of play you expect from your No. 3 and 4 hitters in the middle innings of a tie game. But it's an indication that Regan feels compelled to try to manufacture runs at any time -- with any of his hitters.

Two innings later, Regan made a swift move to the bullpen, removing his startled starter Kevin Brown with a 3-1 lead, two on and one out. He did so to utilize Arthur Rhodes' newfound success pitching in relief against a lineup stacked with left-handed hitters -- and because the Orioles have displayed an inability to pad their run total.

The Orioles didn't acquire Brown at a cost of $4.25 million to throw 63 pitches (42 strikes, an excellent 2-1 ratio). And they shouldn't have to be playing hit-and-run with their third and fourth hitters -- and wouldn't be if they had a Bonilla in the lineup.

But the Orioles have become a station-to-station team. Owner Peter Angelos has let it be known he's willing to absorb Bonilla's $4.5 million salary -- but not at the expense of giving up Hammonds or Alex Ochoa, although he has relented to include Armando Benitez.

Without including one of those three, it's doubtful the Mets' demands for their switch-hitting outfielder/third baseman can be met. Which would leave the Orioles searching for other ways to improve their makeshift offense.

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