MILWAUKEE -- Orioles manager Phil Regan is an ideal in body language, betraying his innermost thoughts with the way he stands in the dugout, the way he signals for his relief pitching.
When he calls for Jesse Orosco or Doug Jones, relatively effective this year, Regan extends his arms fully. With confidence. Get in here, you're needed. But when he's signaled for others, Regan usually just flicks his right or left hand, as if he's reluctant to reach out.
Most of his hand-flicking this year has occurred in the seventh and eighth innings, a time when the Orioles have lost many games, or when small deficits have become large. The club's relievers struggled through the seventh and eighth innings yesterday in a 5-1 loss to Milwaukee, and afterward Regan and assistant general manager Frank Robinson agreed that the bullpen deficiencies must be addressed in the off-season.
Rick Krivda lasted only 1 2/3 innings, allowing four runs, and the Orioles' winning streak ended at four games; they have not won more than four straight in more than two years.
The Orioles have played well over the last two weeks, and a major reason for that success, Regan said, is that the starters have pitched deep into ballgames, finishing the starts themselves or throwing right into the hands of Orosco and Jones. They've bypassed the middle relievers and setup men who've often hurt the Orioles this year.
"That's when we've had problems," Regan said, "in the seventh and eighth innings."
The Orioles, who guaranteed themselves a losing season by falling to 66-73, have outscored their opponents in the first, second, third, fifth and sixth innings this year. But after the sixth inning, they've been outscored 216-180.
Orosco has usually pitched against left-handed hitters in the eighth and ninth innings, and Jones usually throws in save situations in the ninth inning. But Regan has tried numerous pitchers in middle relief roles -- none with any consistent success.
Armando Benitez and Alan Mills began the season as the right-handed setup men, and both were in the minors by late June. Terry Clark assumed that role in early June, and pitched well into July, his ERA less than a run a game.
But in early August, Clark slumped, and so did the Orioles. His ERA has risen to 3.46.
Brad Pennington rarely pitched, floundered badly when he did, and was waived. Mark Lee took his place, and has done well in spots.
Like Clark, however, his effectiveness has waned; several times, Lee has entered with the Orioles trailing by a run or two and been hit around, ruining any chance of a comeback.
Regan was flicking his hand again yesterday, as his relievers struggled in the late innings. Mike Hartley threw 4 1/3 no-hit innings after replacing Krivda, and Clark started the seventh inning.
He walked Pat Listach with two outs, and Listach stole second and third base. Clark walked Mark Loretta, and out of the dugout came Regan, calling for Lee. After pinch-runner Duane Singleton stole second, Lee walked Darryl Hamilton. Bases loaded.
Regan flicked his wrist again, beckoning for right-hander Joe Borowski.
Borowski retired Kevin Seitzer to get out of the inning, but then allowed an RBI single to Joe Oliver in the eighth inning, extending Milwaukee's lead from three to four runs.
"It has been [a problem] for quite awhile," Regan said. "You look at the Yankees with Steve Howe, and the Indians with Tavarez and Eric Plunk and Paul Assenmacher in those [setup] roles, and you have a good idea why they've got such good records."
Robinson said: "The bullpen should be a No. 1 priority. You have to look at the whole bullpen [in the off-season]. That's an important ingredient for this team."
Orosco likely is safe, and if the Orioles don't pick up the '96 option on Jones, they'll likely pursue another proven closer, like Randy Myers or Jeff Montgomery. Borowski may have the inside track to be the right-hander who pitches in the sixth and seventh innings. But the rest of the bullpen could undergo wholesale change.
"We need to really take a look at things," Regan said.