Whatever the cause for the Orioles' alarming 16-16 start, the pending free agency of 13 players after this season is not a contributing factor, according to several who fit into that category.
Some, such as outfielder Eric Davis, contend the status should serve as motivation for those involved.
"These guys have been through free-agent years before. These guys are professionals," Davis said. "If you're preoccupied with your own situation, you want to do as well as you can. That's not an issue. I'd say 90 percent of these guys have been on free-agent years. They've been through that before."
Davis, three weeks shy of turning 36, can back up his claim. After hitting two bases-empty home runs during Wednesday's 14-5 loss to the Cleveland Indians, he is batting .313 with five homers and 12 RBIs in 80 at-bats. He is tied for the team home run lead with first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, and his four stolen bases trail only Jeffrey Hammonds. Davis leads the team with a .588 slugging percentage.
Though his statistics don't support him as well, Scott Erickson also insists his contract status isn't chafing him. Erickson hasn't won in his past five starts and owns a 6.47 ERA.
"This is a strange game. Just as easily as you could play .900 baseball, you can turn around and play .300," Erickson said. "It's better to be lucky than good a lot of times, and right now it's not going the Orioles' way."
Davis is among those who rightfully cite the club's abysmal pitching as responsible for a gruesome 6-14 run. The Orioles carry a 5.32 ERA into tonight's game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Last year they ranked second in the league with a 3.91 ERA. However, Davis hasn't reached for the panic button.
"At some point in time in any season you're going to go through bad streaks, I don't care how well you're playing," said Davis, a cog for the world champion 1990 Cincinnati Reds. "You're going to lose 62 ballgames. If you lose 62 ballgames, you're considered to have had a great season. Right now we're getting closer to that margin. But we still have a lot of baseball left. There are 25 guys in this room who know that."
Can we talk?
Manager Ray Miller has been reluctant to convene a team meeting to address his club's recent woes. That may change tonight, as Miller has become increasingly concerned about his pitchers' inability to get ahead in counts.
Miller has also noticed a growth in base-running mistakes, most recently Hammonds attempting to take third on a grounder to third base with the Orioles trailing 3-0. He was out easily.
"I talked to Hammonds," Miller said afterward. "I didn't get mad at him. He was trying to do right, but it was not a very smart thing."
The heavy-legged Orioles have appeared unsure while trying to adapt to Miller's more aggressive mind-set.
So far they have stolen 17 of 33 attempts, the worst percentage in baseball.
Around the horn
In case anyone is still comparing this season to last: The Orioles didn't lose their 16th game last year until June 6, their 54th game. The Orioles have allowed 10 runs or more in five of their last 16 games. They didn't allow their fifth 10-run game last season until July 6, their 85th game, on the final weekend before the All-Star break. Brady Anderson will again take batting practice today and may be activated sometime this weekend. Anderson was put on the disabled list April 20 due to a strained right shoulder. Left-handed reliever Norm Charlton needs a quick turnaround to salvage his position. Charlton has allowed nine runs in his past four appearances, including three in a one-inning outing Wednesday night. He has retired only four of 11 first batters faced. Believe it or not, Armando Benitez has gone longer this season without a blown save than Randy Myers did last season. Myers blew his only save last May 3 against the Oakland Athletics. Benitez's ninth-inning meltdown on Tuesday night came after he had pitched in the eighth inning of a tie game. He suffered a loss, but no blown save.
Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Site: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Time: 7: 05
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Doug Drabek (2-4, 7.85) vs. Devil Rays' Tony Saunders (1-3, 4.41)
Pub Date: 5/08/98