Even with an 8-4 lead his team would ultimately expand into a 12-5 win over the Anaheim Angels, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove found reason to administer some tough love to starting pitcher Willis Roberts yesterday at Camden Yards. Sometimes lessons must be administered to rookies - even the overpowering ones - before a crowd of 31,249 in a game never much in doubt.
The Orioles crushed Angels starter Scott Schoeneweis (3-3) for 11 runs, including eight in the first two innings of a game offering the drama of a three-hour test pattern.
Roberts never faced the tying run after the first inning. The Orioles mashed a season-high 15 hits, including five straight during a five-run first inning. Every starter had at least one hit after two innings except Brady Anderson, who later joined the club. Their 12 runs came without anything more than a double, and allowed Roberts to cruise.
Instead, he chose to struggle before righting himself in his final inning.
For the first time this season, the Orioles find themselves a stronger offensive team than a pitching one. Roberts' inconsistency and Pat Hentgen's stiff shoulder are the primary reasons. Hargrove can do little for Hentgen except consider a stay on the disabled list. With Roberts, he has options.
Roberts could get away with imprecision yesterday. But Hargrove stalked to the mound during the fourth inning to reprimand him for pitching too deliberately and too passively. With his bullpen stirring, he also could remind him that he was not guaranteed the win.
"I would hope there would be a lesson there. We're going to talk some more. I would think Willis learned something today. If he didn't, I need to get a bigger hammer," said Hargrove, adding, "I think with Willis we saw two different pitchers. We saw the pitcher we saw the last time for four innings. In the fifth it clicked for him and he got his intensity back. ... We're certainly going to make sure he remembers the difference between the two."
Roberts collected himself after Hargrove's visit, striking out three of the next six hitters, again resembling April's dominant pitcher. An important lesson may have been learned.
"My mechanics are better when I am aggressive," Roberts (5-3) said afterward.
The Orioles need them to be. Hargrove said there is only a "60-40" chance Hentgen will make his scheduled start Sunday because of recurring shoulder stiffness. The club may put him on the disabled list retroactive to May 17 and promote Josh Towers to take his next turn.
The Orioles, meanwhile, continue to discover their offensive legs. Yesterday marked the sixth time in 12 games they have manufactured an inning of five runs or more. During those 12 games they have scored 83 runs and batted .285.
"It's going to happen. It's starting right now," said left fielder Delino DeShields, who went 1-for-5 but scored after his infield single in the first. "We're just having good at-bats, not trying to do too much, depending on the guy behind you."
The breakout coincides with a 6-2 run that has taken them within three games of .500 (21-24) for the first time since May 3 and has the club contemplating a .500 record before embarking on a nine-game road trip to Seattle, Oakland and New York.
Yesterday's blowout included multiple hits from five players and three RBIs apiece from first baseman Jeff Conine and designated hitter David Segui. Third baseman Cal Ripken added RBIs in each of the first two innings and every starter except Ripken scored.
But on a day when little pitching was needed, much advice was delivered. Some came in the form of clarification.
Hargrove and pitching coach Mark Wiley suggested to Roberts after a traumatic May 5 start in New York that he work harder to maintain composure on the mound. Unknowingly, by harnessing Roberts' emotions, they led him to slow his tempo and lose his high-maintenance mechanics.
"My thing was he had a little mechanical thing in the last game," Wiley said. "But more importantly, he discovered his tempo between pitches and his routine sped up. The last inning he sped it up. It doesn't matter what the hitter does. It's what he has to do, and the last inning he went back to what he was doing when he was throwing his best. That was a big change for him."
Roberts almost didn't clear the minimum five innings needed for the decision. He threw 90 pitches through four innings and never had command of his assortment.
Said Hargrove: "The trick when you've got a lead like that is to get hitters out and not to think, 'I've got to get through five to get the win' or 'I can't walk this guy because the last thing I want to do is walk this guy with a lead like this.' I think it's more a matter of focus."
The Orioles are reminded they're watching a work in progress. Roberts, 25, had never made a major-league start until this season. His 4-0 April may have fostered unrealistic expectations.
"Willis got off to a great start. He has a tremendous arm. I think the past few starts have been a real good learning experience for him," Bordick said.
The game took on an edge because of Roberts' early wildness. He drilled Angels shortstop David Eckstein with his first pitch, then threw behind him the next inning.
Few in either dugout were surprised when Schoeneweis hit Bordick in the back to begin the bottom of the second inning. Plate umpire Brian O'Nora warned both pitchers against further incidents, drawing both managers from the dugout. Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who contested calls at the plate, first base and third base to almost argue for the cycle, gestured about Roberts' near miss of Eckstein earlier in the inning.
"Our intention was not to throw at Bordick," Scioscia said. "Their guy hit our leadoff hitter in the first inning then threw behind his head, and I took exception to that. The time for issuing a warning had come and gone already."
Bordick wasn't surprised when a 1-1 pitch hit him. Later in the inning a peeved Bordick stole third with a five-run lead.
"Our issue was it just happened to be the same guy who Willis hit. He hit him with the first pitch of the game. Obviously, you're not going to do that intentionally. The second time there were two men on. And we were ahead 8-4 at the time. That doesn't make sense," Hargrove said. "Everything's screaming it's absolutely not intentional. The kid's right on top of the plate. And it was very obvious Schoeneweis hit Bordick on purpose. Now they denied it, as they should. So they warned everybody.
"They could have done one of two things: warn him or kick him out. They chose to warn him. There was no reason for it to escalate beyond what it was."
If Schoeneweis brought anything into the start, he hid it well. He needed 41 pitches to escape the first inning, 76 to get through three innings, and ended up with 98 in four-plus innings. "Whatever I slopped up there they hit," he said. "Not necessarily hard, but I just couldn't get anybody out."
The slender left-hander is now a career 0-3 with an 8.28 ERA against the Orioles. Yesterday's 11 earned runs represented a single-game record by an Angels pitcher.
"I think everyone has a team or a place" that plagues them, Schoeneweis said. "This has been mine."
The Orioles continued against reliever Mark Lukasiewicz during a four-run fifth inning that bumped their lead to eight runs. Conine's two-run double capped the scoring and left him with an eight-game hitting streak during which he has batted .455 with two home runs and 13 RBIs.