Hargrove mind-set may provide relief for struggling Julio

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW YORK - The Orioles aren't ready to anoint a new closer, but with Jorge Julio struggling, manager Mike Hargrove is more likely to use matchups to determine who gets the ball in a save situation.

"We'll probably try to ease the load as much as we can for a while," Hargrove said.

With the Orioles leading the New York Yankees 3-2 in the eighth inning yesterday, Kerry Ligtenberg and left-hander B.J. Ryan began warming up in the bullpen. The Orioles then scored four runs in the ninth, and the tension, instead of starter Rodrigo Lopez, was removed.

Julio led the American League with 29 saves on Aug. 10 and had a 3.28 ERA. He also turned in five straight scoreless appearances.

But in his past three outings, Julio has allowed nine runs (six earned) and nine hits, walked three and surrendered four homers.

"He's not throwing strikes," Hargrove said. "There's nothing wrong with his stuff, and there's nothing wrong with his physical ability. Right now he's having trouble getting ahead of hitters."

Julio said the issue is mechanics.

"Sometimes I go forward," he said. "Sometimes my body goes backward."

Hargrove had Ryan face left-handed-hitting Hideki Matsui leading off the ninth inning of Friday's game. After Matsui flied to left, Hargrove brought in Julio, who allowed two singles and a walk before Buddy Groom got the final out in a 4-3 victory.

Hargrove offered some encouragement to Julio as they walked off the field.

"It's a tough spot for a young kid. It's a tough spot for anybody," Hargrove said. "For a closer to be taken out of a close situation, I was just trying to reassure him that we haven't given up on him, that we still have confidence in him.

"Right now he's going through a little bit of a rough period. We'll get him through that, and he'll be OK."

Said Julio: "He told me, 'I don't worry about it. Tomorrow is another day.' He told me, 'I know you. I know you have a good heart. Right now you're struggling, but keep going.' "

Groom is headed in the other direction. His ERA has gone down from 6.61 on Aug. 12 to 6.06 after four straight scoreless appearances.

Mora may return Tuesday

Rather than play in this series, Melvin Mora is gearing toward a Tuesday return in Oakland, Calif.

"Maybe," he said.

The Orioles can only wait.

Mora remains on the disabled list with a bruised right hand. Able to take batting practice, he indicated yesterday that he'll need two or three days of weightlifting to increase his upper-body strength.

"This last month we're going to face some tough teams. I just want to be out there healthy," he said.

"It's tough to see those guys every time on the field and you aren't part of it. I have to control my mind and think about something else and not think about that. When you're ready, you're ready."

Meanwhile, it appears the Orioles won't activate David Segui until rosters expand Sept. 1.

"As we get deeper into this, it looks more and more like that's what we're looking at," Hargrove said. "We want him to be as healthy as possible."

Raines sits one out

One day after making his first appearance at Yankee Stadium and starting in left field, Tim Raines Jr. sat on the bench while the Orioles defeated Mike Mussina.

Raines was 1-for-5 with an infield hit and two strikeouts in Friday's 4-3 victory. Larry Bigbie replaced him in left field yesterday.

Bigbie was Raines' teammate in Triple-A Ottawa, where he noticed how the offensive side of the switch-hitter's game finally seemed to catch up with the defensive side - much like center fielder Luis Matos.

"I think he's starting to learn his role as a leadoff guy, hitting the ball on the ground and using his tools," Bigbie said of Raines, who batted .299 at Ottawa and .308 at Double-A Bowie.

Yanks honor Guidry

The Yankees made one of their ex-greats cry yesterday.

Ron Guidry, the left-hander known as "Louisiana Lightning," wiped away tears as the Yankees retired his No. 49 and unveiled a plaque to be displayed in Monument Park during a moving pre-game ceremony.

Guidry spent his entire 14-year career with the Yankees, winning the 1978 Cy Young Award after going 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA.

Around the horn

Catcher Brook Fordyce hit his second triple, driving in two runs in the fifth inning. Before this season, his last one came July 2000. ... The St. Louis Cardinals traded for Yankees left-hander Sterling Hitchcock on Friday rather than make a serious run at Pat Hentgen. An Orioles official said the Cardinals weren't interested in Hentgen.

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