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Optimistic Hentgen bears wait


Another day passed with the Orioles no more certain whether Pat Hentgen can make Sunday's scheduled start against the Texas Rangers at Camden Yards, though the veteran pitcher remains optimistic that he'll be given the ball.

Hentgen didn't make yesterday's scheduled bullpen session, choosing to delay it another day before testing his right shoulder. After speaking with pitching coach Mark Wiley, Hentgen decided to throw on the side before tonight's opener of a four-game series with the Rangers.

"I'm not going to throw enough where it's going to tax me, so why not wait another day?" Hentgen said.

He hasn't pitched since May 16 because of tightness in his pitching shoulder, and will miss a full turn if allowed to start Sunday. Hentgen, who signed a two-year, $9.6 million contract in December that included a club option for 2003, is 2-3 with a 3.47 ERA in 62 1/3 innings - the most thrown by an Orioles starter.

The extended wait for Hentgen's bullpen session "just sets up better," Hargrove said. "We'll probably know after tomorrow whether or not he'll make that start. We'll just wait and see, but we're anticipating that he'll make the start on Sunday."

Hargrove also expects Hentgen to give the club full disclosure after throwing, rather than try to hide any lingering discomfort and risk serious injury.

"A lot of it's going to depend on his honesty, and Pat's always been honest with us. When you get down to pitchers and players, you've got to depend on them telling you the truth about how they feel. A little of it's that, and a little of it's how he does and what he does and how much of it he does."

Hargrove's concern over Hentgen's availability rose Wednesday from a three to a four on the manager's personal scale, which goes no higher than 10. He often refers to it in situations where intrigue over a player's status is building.

Told that the injury had been upgraded to a four, Hargrove replied: "It's still a four. It's not a full-blown 4 1/2 yet."

Hargrove wouldn't reveal the identity of Sunday's emergency starter if Hentgen can't go. "You can guess," he told reporters, "but I'm still not telling you."

Asked about checking flights out of Rochester, the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate, Hargrove quipped: "It wouldn't do any good. We're bringing him by bus."

If the disabled list is used, the Orioles could recall Josh Towers from Rochester and give the rookie his first major-league start. Towers' next turn falls Sunday.

Left-hander Chuck McElroy would be the favorite if Hentgen remains on the active roster. The other option would be pitching rookie Willis Roberts on three days' rest, an unlikely scenario after he needed 107 pitches to get through five innings on Wednesday.

Hitters get into swing

The Orioles' team batting average rose to a season-high .241 after Wednesday's 12-5 win over Anaheim, which included 15 hits in a game they led 8-0 after the second inning. They added 10 hits last night and are hitting .287 (128-for-446) with 29 doubles, 13 homers and 89 runs scored in their past 13 games.

Jeff Conine has a nine-game hitting streak that has included a .432 average with two homers and 13 RBIs. Melvin Mora is batting .342 in his past 12 games. Chris Richard is hitting .292 with four homers and 13 runs scored in his past 13 games.

Jerry Hairston has a .300 average with nine RBIs in his past 10 games. Catcher Brook Fordyce lifted his average above .200 by hitting .320 in his past 14 games. Mike Bordick is hitting .306 in his past 10 games. Cal Ripken has hit safely in 12 of his past 13 games, batting .327. And David Segui has eight RBIs in eight games since being activated from the disabled list May 15.

The offensive resurgence is a major reason the Orioles have climbed within two games of .500. They haven't been two below the break-even mark since May 2, when they were 13-15.

"As people get at-bats, they start settling in and not putting as much pressure on themselves as they were earlier on," Hargrove said. "It all works together. I don't think you can point at any one thing. Our guys aren't bad hitters, they're good hitters. We're just not home run hitters. We've settled in to what makes us go and the type of offense that we have."

"Everything's easier when you're hitting. You have more of an opportunity to be aggressive. Instead of having maybe four or five. And obviously the more opportunities you have to do that, the greater chance that one or two of those are going to succeed and set things up.

Around the horn

Anaheim Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher was ejected in the first inning after Wally Joyner was called out on strikes. Hatcher was ejected by plate umpire Bill Welke while arguing from the dugout . ... The Single-A Frederick Keys' Steve Bechler and Richard Stahl each threw a seven-inning, 1-0 shutout in Wednesday's double-header against Lynchburg. Belcher gave up three hits and struck out six in the opener, and Stahl allowed two hits and struck out seven.

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