Shoulder stiffness to cost Hentgen start tomorrow


Bothered by tightness in his right shoulder that first appeared almost three weeks ago, Orioles pitcher Pat Hentgen will miss his scheduled start tomorrow and most likely a full turn in the rotation.

Manager Mike Hargrove, taking advantage of two days off this week, is pushing back Hentgen as a precautionary measure. Willis Roberts will make tomorrow's start against the Anaheim Angels at Camden Yards, followed by Jason Johnson on Wednesday. Both pitchers will work on normal rest.

The Orioles have an open date Thursday, and Hargrove said the starters for a four-game series against the Texas Rangers that begins the next night are "up in the air." But his early projection had Jose Mercedes and Sidney Ponson pitching the first two games on five days' rest. Hentgen could go Saturday, which would be 10 days after his last appearance.

"It's just a mild case of tendinitis or whatever you want to call it," said Hentgen, who signed a two-year, $9 million contract in December. "With the off days, it gave us the liberty of pitching Johnson and Roberts on normal five days, instead of having someone come back on three days rest, which I've done in the past."

Hentgen said he would have attempted to pitch tomorrow if not for the days off this week.

"It's your normal aches and pains. With the off days, they talked to me about it and I thought it was probably a good idea, as much as I hate to get bumped. It doesn't really screw up anybody," he said.

The discomfort in Hentgen's shoulder surfaced during his May 4 start against the New York Yankees at Camden Yards. He didn't throw on the side before his next start in Tampa, when he walked six and ran his pitch count to 103 in six innings. He exhibited better command in Wednesday's outing against the Detroit Tigers, allowing two hits and no walks while improving to 2-3 with a 3.47 ERA in 62 1/3 innings.

"He's thrown a lot of innings and it's still May. You don't want to overdo it with him," Hargrove said.

Hentgen, who hasn't been examined by team orthopedist Dr. Michael Jacobs, originally was listed as tomorrow's starter, but instead will throw on the side that afternoon. The Orioles considered moving him to Wednesday before deciding to extend his rest period.

"It wasn't really up to me," Hentgen said. "The decision was made by [pitching coach] Mark Wiley and Grover. It's one of those things where I've been able to throw through it in the past and I probably could throw through it now, but given the off days, that's why it was done the way it was done."

Roberts works on flaw

Roberts threw on the side Saturday and apparently has corrected a flaw in his mechanics that caused his velocity to drop and made his splitter less effective.

Time spent reviewing tape of Roberts' last few starts paid off when the Orioles detected a pause in his delivery that prevented his four-seam fastball from reaching 95 mph on the radar gun. He had difficulty topping out at 92 in his last start. Lacking the same explosiveness, Roberts became more vulnerable with his other pitches.

"We all noticed it," Hargrove said. "It's like playing golf and starting your downswing and getting about three-quarters from hitting the ball, stopping and trying to start again."

Roberts has lost three straight decisions after going 4-0 in April, with his ERA rising from 1.95 to 5.15.

"There was a little bit of a stop in my arm," he said.

Pickup in power

The power outage that left Orioles hitters in the dark last month no longer is an issue. Someone must have flipped a switch.

After hitting 15 homers in April, the Orioles have 13 in their past 11 games. They also have scored 71 runs while batting .272, raising their season average to .237.

"We're making good, solid contact, and the home runs are going to follow," said hitting coach Terry Crowley. "We really don't have a lineup that you can start the season and say, 'Yeah, that guy's going to hit 40 home runs.' Overall, the home run numbers will be down compared to some other clubs, but the fact that the base hits are coming a little more frequently than when the season started just holds true to my theory that when you're making better contact, whether it's opposite-field hits or hits up the middle, a certain amount of home runs will follow because you're doing things correctly."

Lineup changes

Hargrove's lineup, his 40th in 44 games, didn't include Brady Anderson, Delino DeShields and Brook Fordyce. It marked the second time in three games that Anderson and DeShields didn't start against a left-handed pitcher, with Hargrove again putting Mike Kinkade in left field and Melvin Mora in center. Kinkade made a sliding catch to rob the Twins' Torii Hunter in the second inning.

Anderson had a career .375 average (3-for-8) against Twins starter Mark Redman. DeShields was batting .556 (5-for-9) against him.

Fordyce had four hits - all home runs - in 10 at-bats, with seven RBIs. He caught Saturday night's game, so Hargrove went with backup Fernando Lunar.

Jerry Hairston batted leadoff for the second time in three games with Anderson out of the lineup. Hargrove said Hairston still projects there after spending most of his brief major-league career hitting second or ninth.

"Obviously, the No. 1 priority is getting on base and you'd like to have a guy who can run and steal a base," Hargrove said. "We've seen him become a little more patient at the plate, and I think that's the only thing that's holding him back from being a true leadoff hitter. We certainly project him at that spot."

Around the horn

The start of the game was delayed 1 hour, 4 minutes because of rain. ... Jeff Conine extended his hitting streak to seven games. He's batting .414 with two homers and 10 RBIs in that span. ... The Orioles are 4-0 when tied after eight innings. ... The Twins were attempting to move 18 games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 1992 season, when they finished 90-72.

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