SEATTLE -- Barely 24 hours after putting out a call for an emergency starter, the Orioles found their emergency.
At exactly 3: 38 local time, less than 2 1/2 hours before the first pitch against the Seattle Mariners, Nerio Rodriguez arrived at the Kingdome to assume Jimmy Key's spot in the rotation. Manager Ray Miller had to watch only 11 hitters to realize this wasn't such a great idea.
Suddenly the rookie Rodriguez was gone -- trailing 4-0 with one out in the second inning -- and the Orioles' chances for constructing their first three-game win streak since the season's second week went with him.
The Mariners ran out a 12-4 win before 28,375 that featured a second-inning appearance by Arthur Rhodes and a total disappearance of pitching stability.
The losses didn't stop with Rodriguez's standing. Asked to warm up in the eighth, starter Scott Kamieniecki was shut down with a neck strain.
"When it rains, it pours," Kamieniecki said. "When it pours, what does it do?"
He will be pushed back at least two days for his next start, according to Miller, and could go on the disabled list for a second time.
"It's no secret. There's no miracle answer to anything here," said Miller. "Our No. 1's [Mike Mussina] out. Our No. 3's [Jimmy Key] out. Our No. 4's [Kamieniecki] got a stiff neck. What was our closer [Armando Benitez] is on suspension. We've just got to get through it."
Miller is reduced to hoping that Mussina can come off the disabled list to make Saturday's start at Camden Yards. Only last Thursday Mussina had his broken nose straightened.
Straightening out the Orioles' pitching mess has become a Rubik's Cube. One pitcher returns and two are lost. Had Rodriguez (0-2) not been able to get to Seattle in time for last night's start, two things might've happened: the Orioles would likely have received a more competent effort and Miller may have pressed Benitez to appeal his eight-game suspension.
Hunched over his post-game dinner inside a claustrophic office, Miller could only bemoan the situation.
"It's probably not fair to Nerio, but there's got to be somebody else there," Miller said. "I asked for [Sidney] Ponson. He's 20 years old and he's throwing pretty good. I keep hearing all the prospects are in low [Class] A ball and all that. But you've got to pitch better than that. Anybody who can throw strikes and halfway hold runners has a chance to pitch here.
"There are a lot of people pitching for a lot of teams that have no business being there. But the only reason they're there is there's nobody to replace them."
In a battle of 22-27 underachievers, the Mariners battered Rhodes and Bobby Munoz after Rodriguez, finishing with 15 hits, tying their season high.
Rodriguez, who had won only one of five starts at Rochester, appeared overmatched from the beginning. He trailed when two of the first three hitters he faced, Joey Cora and Ken Griffey, each doubled. A walk, a third double by Glenallen Hill and Russ Davis' two-out single capped the four-run wipeout.
Davis finished with four RBIs, tying his career high. Griffey contributed two RBI doubles and shortstop Alex Rodriguez added a two-run homer, his AL-leading 19th, off Munoz in the fifth.
"They're coming," said Alex Rodriguez, who went 2-for-5 to extend his hitting streak to a season-high 10 games. "But my approach is not to go out there and hit home runs. When I do, it's a mistake."
Key will be examined today to determine the source of stiffness in his left shoulder. Nerio Rodriguez may be on the next plane to Rochester after being tagged for five runs and five hits in 1 1/3 innings.
The loss dropped the Orioles 15 games behind the first-place Yankees. It is the farthest they've trailed since the end of the '95 season and the Phil Regan regime.
Whatever pitching momentum the Orioles had mustered in Oakland was quickly wiped out. Doug Drabek and Doug Johns had combined to allow two earned runs and no walks in 16 innings as the Orioles won their last two against the Athletics. Rodriguez had allowed two runs before seeing his seventh batter.
The Mariners led 5-0 after two innings and responded to the Orioles' two-run third with seven unanswered runs to give themselves a 12-2 lead after six.
The Mariners pounded out 14 hits through six innings, including five for extra bases by the upper third of their lineup.
Miller refused to concede early. He yanked Rodriguez after 11 hitters and 45 pitches rather than allow him to take a staff-saving beating.
"I didn't think [Mariners starter Billy] Swift was throwing that great. I can't let him give up 10 runs," Miller said. "If we get out of that inning unscathed, we've got a chance. I can't kill my ballclub. At least early, there are a few million Orioles fans watching."
Miller can barely stand to watch anymore. The loss of Kamieniecki would devastate a pitching staff that now lists Doug Drabek as its second starter.
"I threw with it the other day. I couldn't throw with it today," said Kamieniecki, who missed a scheduled side session Sunday.
The game did have historical significance as Cal Ripken batted seventh for only the third time since his 1982 rookie season.
Ripken responded to the jolt with two hits, including his first home run since May 9 and second since April 9. It also gave him RBI in a second game this month.
Ripken's seventh-inning home run preceded another by Brady Anderson. Continuing a recent offensive revival, Anderson clubbed the 71st homer to reach the Kingdome's upper deck.
Coupled with a previous single, Anderson has hit in 11 of his last 12 games with an at-bat, going 15-for-50 (.300) since surviving an 0-for-27 drought to raise his average to .167. Anderson's five home runs are only one fewer than the first two months last season when he batted .328.
Ripken hits 7th
Cal Ripken is dropped to seventh in the Orioles' batting order but manager Ray Miller emphatically denies a report in yesterday's New York Times that the club is considering benching him. Ripken hit his fourth homer of the season last night. (Page 6C)
Opponent: Seattle Mariners
Site: Kingdome, Seattle, Wash.
Time: 6: 35 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: O's Scott Erickson (4-5, 5.10) vs. Mariners' Jeff Fassero (5-1, 2.73)
A look at the earliest exits by Orioles starting pitchers this season:
Date Pitcher .. .. .. .. .Opp. .. .. IP .. .. H .. .. ER
4/24 Kamieniecki . .. .. .Oak. .. .. . 1/3 .. ...4 .. .. .6
5/25 Rodriguez .. .. .. ..Sea. . .. .1 1/3 .. ...5 .. .. .5
4/26 Drabek .. .. .. .. ..Oak. .. ...2 1/3 .. ...7 .. .. .5
4/17 Erickson .. .. .. ...Tex. .. ...2 2/3 .. ..11 .. .. .6
5/22 Kamieniecki .. .. ...Oak. .. ...3 .. .. .6 .. .. .7
5/6 Erickson .. .. .. .. .Cle. .. ...3 1/3 .. ...8 .. .. .7
4/19 Key .. .. .. .. .. ..Tex. .. ...3 2/3 .. ..10 .. .. .8
Pub Date: 5/26/98