The Orioles kicked off a stretch last night when they will play 17 of their next 20 games at home. It leads into the waiver deadline, when clubs are stocked for a playoff run or taken apart with an eye toward the future.
Manager Mike Hargrove indicated these games at Camden Yards, where the Orioles are 23-14 after last night's loss to the Braves, won't have any influence over which direction they take. Syd Thrift, vice president of baseball operations, continues to work the phones with certain veterans available for the right price.
"I don't look at these next 17 or 20 days as an important barometer in which way the organization goes. I think that's pretty much been decided," Hargrove said.
"Don't read that the wrong way, that this is an official statement. We have an idea what it is we want to do and we're going about the business of taking care of those things. It's going to be good to be home, but as far as the next 20 days being a guideline as to the direction we take, I don't look at it that way."
In Cleveland, Hargrove was used to having his front office bolster the club for another swipe at a world championship while running away with the American League Central. The Orioles, however, are 8 1/2 games out of first place in the AL East, with three teams ahead of them. It's a different perspective for Hargrove, but his basic philosophy remains the same even as rumors of a dismantling continue to swirl: Don't let your focus stray from the field.
"When you sign on, either as a player, manager or coach, you understand the bottom line is this is a business. You understand, speaking as a player, that things happen in this game that you have no control over. You go out and take care of your business and let things happen that happen. That's how I approach it with this ballclub," Hargrove said.
"We're all here, we're all going to play, we're going to play hard, and we're going to play to win. And there are things we have no control over. Worry about the things that we have some sort of influence on. You go out and take it a day at a time, just like always."
The Orioles should have a pretty good scouting report on Andy Ashby. They've seen enough of him the past month.
Ashby is starting for the Braves tonight, six days after facing the Orioles in Philadelphia. That appearance came after a June 11 game at Camden Yards, when Ashby opposed Mike Mussina.
With scouts trailing him wherever he pitched, Ashby was a member of the Phillies' rotation until being traded to Atlanta on Wednesday for left-hander Bruce Chen and minor-league pitcher Jimmy Osting. In his last game with Philadelphia, he limited the Orioles to one earned run in eight innings in a 13-4 victory.
His memories of Camden Yards aren't as fond. He gave up seven runs and 12 hits in 6 2/3 innings in a 7-2 loss on June 11.
"You get the ball up anywhere, you're going to get hit," he said. "My off-speed stuff was pretty inconsistent. I got behind in the count. At home, I pitched more effective and I was able to throw my curveball. It makes a difference knowing you can throw three or four pitches instead of just trying to get by with a fastball when you're 2-0 or 3-1 all the time.
"Hopefully [tonight] I can pitch instead of just trying to get by throwing."
Either way, Ashby can take comfort in not being followed around as much anymore.
"It feels good that it's over and done with," he said. "I've been hearing rumors for a while now, and not knowing when you come to the park if it's going to be your last day or if it'll be going on for another week. Definitely, it's a good feeling knowing it's over with, and I'm happy where I'm at now."
The strained rib cage muscle that caused Ryan Minor to be scratched before a July 1 game at Camden Yards continued to keep him out of the lineup last night.
"It's still a little sore," said Minor, who can play in the field but has been restricted to hitting soft toss and off a tee. "It'll probably go away in a couple days. I tried to play with it, but I'm being told not to, that if I twist it one more time I might make it worse. I don't want to do that."
Hargrove said it will be "at least" a few more days until Minor can play again, "if not longer."
"I thought the three days off during the break would be a big boost, and it probably was, but he still feels that pull in there."
In the meantime, the Orioles have signed veteran third baseman Dave Hollins to a minor-league contract and assigned him to Triple-A Rochester. Hollins batted .174 with one homer and two RBIs in 10 games at Triple-A Durham.
When Minor returns, he'll be wearing a different number - again. He switched from 29 to 25, explaining that the old number hadn't been used much since outfielder Ken Singleton retired, and he felt more comfortable keeping it that way. No. 25 is best remembered as belonging to Rafael Palmeiro, though pitcher Ricky Bones inherited it last season. Minor had worn No. 10 until Mark Lewis joined the club.
Cox to appeal suspension
Atlanta manager Bobby Cox intends to appeal his five-game suspension, handed down yesterday, for making contact with umpire Derryl Cousins on July 4. The suspension would take effect tonight.
"I guess it was for arguing too hard," Cox said. "There was some elbowing going on from both of us. I was surprised. It's a little strong as far as I'm concerned. In fact, most of these suspensions are too strong."
Frank Robinson, baseball's vice president for on-field operations, imposed the punishment, which also included a fine. If Cox must serve the suspension, Pat Corrales would take his place.
Around the horn
Hargrove said there's no timetable for calling up second baseman Jerry Hairston from Rochester. Hairston came off the disabled list last week after having arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder May 19. He began the season with the Orioles but was optioned on April 9. He'll rejoin the club sometime this summer ... Atlanta second baseman Quilvio Veras was a late scratch because of an illness, with Keith Lockhart taking his place.