MINNEAPOLIS -- Struggling to keep the division lead in sight, the Orioles will have to thrive or dive with the same pitching that has so often betrayed them this season, general manager Pat Gillick said last night.
Expansion and teams' unwillingness to part with legitimate arms so early in the season have complicated any attempt to bolster a staff, according to Gillick, who has scoured both leagues without success. The only alternative is to hope the return of starters Mike Mussina and Scott Kamieniecki will enable a tattered bullpen to heal. Or as manager Ray Miller put it, "We need someone already here to step up."
Before Scott Erickson's shutout last night, the rotation had posted a 6.52 ERA in the previous 23 games while barely averaging five innings per start. The bullpen had suffered a corresponding meltdown, going 2-4 with three saves and a 5.42 ERA.
"There's nothing there, right now. As the season goes along, it'll become easier to do something, I think," Gillick said.
Gillick estimated the market would loosen in about a month. Until then, Miller must make do with a staff that has failed to pitch to form since a 10-2 start.
"Realistically, anybody that's got somebody who can pitch a little bit is going to hold onto them," Gillick said.
The Orioles remain hostage to poor timing. They have won only two of 19 games when allowing more than three runs, an indicator that the lineup has been unable to salvage much during a collective slump by the pitching staff.
"We haven't pitched as well, and we haven't delivered at the plate," Gillick said. "The pitching and hitting haven't come together yet."
Gillick conceded that middle relief represents an obvious avenue for improvement. Already, Miller has used seven different arms there.
"We've got to get better. We haven't pitched as well as we'd like to pitch," Gillick said. "We might already have the guys to make it better."
Added Miller about the inability to control the middle innings: "We need somebody to step up. Maybe we have the person to do it, but they just haven't done it yet. That shouldn't be something that happens four times a week. But once or twice a week, yes, you need somebody to come in and retire some people."
The Orioles continue to wait for something positive from Norm Charlton and Terry Mathews. Miller has gradually lost confidence in Charlton and now uses him in mop-up duty. Mathews was scored upon in six of nine outings before being placed on the disabled list retroactive to April 30 because of an inflamed wrist. Despite absorbing Sunday's loss against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Alan Mills joins Arthur Rhodes as the only effective middle relievers.
Miller reluctantly attributes part of his team's troubles in one-run games -- seven straight losses -- to a glaring lack of speed.
"We're going to live and die by our pitching because we don't have a lot of speed," Miller said. "We can create some things, but in a close ballgame if we don't hit the ball we're not going to be real exciting."
Pub Date: 5/12/98