Hargrove splits difference before openers


ARLINGTON, Texas - While Orioles manager Mike Hargrove has done his best to maintain a sense of normalcy within the team's 2-13 tailspin, he has adjusted preparation for each opponent.

Rather than conducting a combined session with hitters and pitchers 2 1/2 hours before each series opener, Hargrove has split the team into two groups for more detailed reports.

He made the switch before last week's four-game homestand against the Boston Red Sox and continued it earlier this week in Anaheim and Thursday here.

By separating into two groups, Hargrove believes more detail can be discussed in the same amount of time. He also has suggested more input from veteran players, especially starting pitchers such as Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson.

"It gives you a little bit more detail and a little bit more interaction as far as creating an outline of how to get people out," Hargrove said before last night's game was rained out.

"You examine strengths and weaknesses as hitters. You examine the fine points of what pitches are good in which situations. In some cases, Mussina and Erickson might have a different take on that."

The Orioles have held two team meetings this season other than those to prepare for the next opponent. Hargrove has maintained a low-key approach, warning that an early clubhouse tantrum can do more harm than good, something this team could confirm from previous seasons.

"You just try to keep everybody upbeat, positive and focused on what we do," he said. "It doesn't do a whole lot of good to yell at people because the effort's been there. I sure don't like the results, but it doesn't do any good to rant and rave when everybody is giving their best effort."

Hargrove has repeatedly been asked if he anticipates major changes in the lineup and has repeatedly insisted no. The Orioles' efforts to acquire pitching help have found deadends, while they lack help at Triple-A Rochester.

A remaining option is to deal a veteran starter, such as Erickson, for a group of younger arms. That avenue may be explored now that the Cleveland Indians, who pursued Erickson before last July's trade deadline, are dealing with a raft of pitching injuries.

"We'll come out of this the way we went into it," said Hargrove. "The way we won't come out of it is acting like crazy people."

Johnson to bullpen

Hargrove made the obvious move after last night's rainout by bumping Jason Johnson from his start to keep Mussina and Erickson on schedule.

Hargrove said Johnson will pitch out of the bullpen before making his next start, which will likely be May 27 against Oakland. Until recently, Johnson might have chafed at the decision. But because he has found a comfort zone after a spring of searching, he is willing to be more patient, even if it means some time in the bullpen.

"As long as I get in the game, I don't have a problem with being in the bullpen," Johnson said. "I just want innings to pitch."

Down time for Clark

Will Clark's return from the disabled list Wednesday night apparently carried a price. The Orioles' first baseman experienced enough stiffness afterward that Hargrove suggested he may sit out the remainder of the four-game series against his former team.

Hargrove described Clark as "playable," but indicated Jeff Conine would likely play the next two games in place of Clark, who complained yesterday about a rusty batting eye and residual soreness from crouching "for about 160 pitches in six innings" Wednesday.

Clark was not surprised by the mixed reception he received upon his first return to The Ballpark since he left the Rangers as a free agent in December 1998. He was on the disabled list both times the Orioles came through Arlington last season.

"Fans have notoriously short memories," Clark said.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Texas Rangers

Site: The Ballpark in Arlington, Texas

Time: 8:05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090AM)

Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (1-5, 4.68) vs. Rangers' Esteban Loaiza (1-2, 5.24)

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