Bullpen works on its problems - on side


ARLINGTON, Texas - Whatever the reason for the Orioles bullpen's season-long problems, it can't be attributed to lack of rest. When the Orioles resume their schedule tomorrow night against the Seattle Mariners, the bullpen will have enjoyed three of the last four days off and addressed the mechanical struggles of at least two of its members.

Left-handed rookie B.J. Ryan and setup man Mike Trombley have received special attention in recent weeks. Trombley has suffered four blown saves. His troubles worsened after surrendering three home runs and hit a batter in a traumaticMay 13 appearance against the Boston Red Sox. Ryan, whose ERA has ballooned from 0.66 to 7.02 in his last five outings, also has struggled since surrendering a game-winning home run to New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada on May 5.

Both pitchers have been followed by control problems. Ryan had to be lifted from his last appearance after throwing 10 consecutive balls. Trombley has walked nine in 15 1/3 innings and has fought to find a consistent split-fingered pitch."It's much easier for your starters to work on things when they have four days between appearances than a reliever who you might need that night," said bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks."You have to be very careful how you work a guy. You send him out there for 10 minutes then the manager might need him in the game."

Friday's rainout, Saturday's complete game and today's scheduled off day offer a rare opportunity for the bullpen to collect itself without being taxed in games."The biggest thing is retention," Hendricks said. "You can work on things on the side, but it has to become comfortable enough that it translates to the game. That's easier said than done."

The bullpen entered last night having blown 11 of 17 save chances with a 7.05 ERA. Relievers had allowed 28 earned runs in 15 innings covering the previous seven games. It is on pace to challenge last season's 20 first-half blown saves.

'Moose' stays silent

Mike Mussina remained in a quietly reflective mood the afternoon after absorbing Saturday's loss in a 2-1 decision against the Texas Rangers.

Mussina chose not to discuss his six-hit complete game - arguably his best performance to date - shunning questions for the first time this season. Yesterday, Mussina said he was extending his media blackout "maybe for a few days or a week" and admitted he has become "frustrated" by the circumstances surrounding a career-worst 1-6 start.

The league leader in innings pitched with a 4.42 ERA, Mussina drew raves from manager Mike Hargrove and pitching coach Sammy Ellis for an outing that included only four pitches over the middle third of the plate, according to Ellis' count."Quality stuff" served as Ellis' description.

Hargrove dismissed suggestions his ace has become despondent over a season that has now seen him lose four consecutive starts for the first time in his career and assured him of taking his next turn without a win for 26 days."He pitched a great game that he should have won," said Hargrove. "But Mike is going to pick himself up and be ready for his next start in four days."

Mussina's six losses are only one fewer than he suffered all last season. He took his sixth loss last Aug. 1 after winning 13 games and didn't lose after Aug. 6.

A year ago, Mussina earned four of the rotation's first five wins. This year, he has one of the rotation's nine wins. Entering last night's game, the rotation had won only once in 18 games since Mussina picked up his only victory with an April 29 complete game over the Rangers.

Lineup shuffle

Hargrove's patience with the sagging middle of his lineup finally reached a breaking point yesterday when he moved left fielder B.J. Surhoff from No. 3 to No. 8 in the order. Hargrove also switched Cal Ripken and Will Clark's spots in the order, dropping Ripken to No.7 while advancing Clark to No.6.

Hargrove made the former move due to Surhoff's 3-for-35 funk, which had dropped his average to 239 entering last night's game. Hargrove made the latter move as a way of alternating right- and left-handed hitters against Rangers left-handed starter Darren Oliver.

Surhoff, whose major-league-high consecutive game streak apparently is not jeopardized by his funk, had batted in the No. 3 hole in 38 of 41 previous games. He had batted sixth once and seventh twice. Clark and Ripken occupied their slots for the first time this season."I'm just giving him a chance to catch his breath," said Hargrove. "I was very encouraged about his at-bats [Saturday] night. They were solid."

Surhoff was 1-for-4 Saturday and lost a flared single when shortstop Royce Clayton made an extended catch while running away from the plate.

Around the horn

The Orioles entered last night having allowed four or more runs 20 times this season. The breakouts include one seven-run inning, one of six runs and four of five runs. ... The Orioles have been outscored 67-29 from the eighth inning. ... Entering last night, the Orioles had surrendered 30 home runs in May and at least one in 15 of 17 games. ... While the Orioles won 10 of their first 12 home games this season, they had lost 16 of 23 on the road. ... Ripken put more distance between himself and Hank Aaron last night when he grounded into his 330th career double play. On Wednesday, he grounded into No. 329 to break a tie with the home run king. ... Albert Belle's first-inning single last night gave him at least one hit in 18 of his last 20 games.

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