Hargrove: Break in sight, so is contention


Seven games remain before the All-Star break. Seven games before the Orioles can close the book on the first half and begin another chapter. And even as trade possibilities are mulled that would remove certain veterans from the text, manager Mike Hargrove won't discount the possibility of a happy ending.

"I don't think that we've given up on the thought of being able to compete or contend," he said. "Obviously I don't say that lightly. I understand that being [7 1/2 ] games out is a long road, it's an uphill battle, but I think approaching it any other way is wrong. These guys feel, and rightly so, that we have a chance if we can get some breaks and we continue to be consistent with what we're doing.

"I think that, certainly, our goal is to be there at the end."

Though the club's general approach has remained the same, Hargrove said he's noticed some important changes since his post-game meeting on June 23 after an 8-3 loss in Seattle. The Orioles played a tighter game the next day, losing 2-1, and have been more competitive with the exception of a 12-4 loss in Boston.

No longer does Hargrove sense that his players are waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"I think that there's less of an attitude of accepting your fate," he said. "I don't want to say accept losing because that's not it. A lot of times when you're wondering, 'What's going to happen now,' all of a sudden you're sitting back and you're not going out and being aggressive and making things work for you.

"I see us going out and trying to create things offensively and defensively, where we might have sat back there for a period. ... I think it's just a narrowing of focus as much as anything.

"We scored 12 runs in Oakland and didn't win. We scored a lot of runs early in the road trip, and we didn't win ... for one reason or another. All of a sudden, instead of focusing on trying to win, you're focusing in on, 'I wonder how far this ball's going to go when this guy hits it?' You lose your focus."

Veterans like Scott Erickson, Mike Bordick, B. J. Surhoff and Charles Johnson remain available, and vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift continues to work the phones. But Hargrove is leery of these conversations being interpreted as a surrender.

"Trades are very hard to make, especially ones that are good for both clubs," Hargrove said. "Syd's not going to make a deal just to make a deal, but I certainly think you've got to be concerned about the short-term future of this club but also not let that affect the long-term future. It's a real delicate balancing act."

Fidgety Minor sits again

Ryan Minor was held out of the lineup for the second straight day because of continued soreness in his left side. It's not known whether he'll play today in the series finale, though he endorsed the idea yesterday.

"He's the same. It's a day-to-day deal," Hargrove said. "He just felt something in there. I've pulled a muscle before and it felt like somebody's thumped you with their finger. That's all it was, but it was eight days before I could play."

Minor pulled a muscle in his side while taking some swings in the indoor cage with hitting coach Terry Crowley. He was scratched from Saturday's lineup after getting three hits in his past seven at-bats.

"I'll tell him I'm available [today] if he wants to play me," Minor said. "It's up to him and [trainer] Richie Bancells. I can still feel it but I hate to sit around."

Timlin brushes off boo-birds

The stats will show that Orioles reliever Mike Timlin left yesterday's game after failing to record an out. Two batters, two singles and he was gone. But Timlin's critique wasn't as harsh as the one provided by fans.

Timlin was summoned to begin the eighth inning with the score tied, 2-2. Toronto's Craig Grebeck led off with a single into center field and Raul Mondesi grounded one through the left side. Hargrove signaled for left-hander Buddy Groom and the crowd booed as Timlin departed. The mood changed when Groom retired the next two hitters and Mike Trombley struck out Tony Batista.

"One was a jam shot and the other was a slider off the end of the bat. I knew it wasn't a bad outing. I threw the pitches where I wanted them," said Timlin, no longer the closer after Hargrove decided on a committee approach last week.

"You look at the same two pitches. I jam Grebeck and he hits a line drive at [shortstop] Mike Bordick. 'Yeah, you're great.' I throw a slider to Mondesi and he hits a two-hopper to Bordick, who throws him out at first. 'Yeah, you're great.' It just so happens they didn't go to anybody."[The booing] is not understanding what I've done out there. But I'm not going to talk about the fans."

Timlin, in the second year of a four-year, $16 million contract, indicated that he's still comfortable pitching in Baltimore and wouldn't view a trade as a needed fresh start.

"I'm an Oriole. That's just how it is," he said. "I'll go out and pitch until [I bleed] for this team, for these guys in this room."

DeShields in the outfield?

Though Hargrove experimented with putting Delino DeShields in center field during spring training, he hasn't made the move through the first 79 games. But Hargrove indicated yesterday that he do so at some point in the second half.

"I haven't had to yet, but I could see that happening. And maybe not so late in the year," he said. "A lot of things would have to happen for that to take place, though."

For now, Hargrove would be satisfied with DeShields being healthy. DeShields, who committed his eighth error yesterday, is bothered by neck stiffness and soreness in his upper back.

"Bop right now is struggling a little bit. It's painful, very painful," Hargrove said.

If Jerry Hairston continues to progress from shoulder surgery, he's expected to be recalled in late summer. That could create the occasional chain of events, with Hairston making some starts at second, DeShields moving to center and Brady Anderson relocating.

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