- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 29, 2004

I wonder if this question came up in the interviews the Baltimore Orioles co-baseball bosses, Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, conducted with Lee Mazzilli. You know, the interview that blew them away?

“Lee, your team just played three games against the New York Yankees and got swept by a collective total runs of 41-17, including an 18-5 loss in the final game. You used 15 pitchers, none of whom could get anybody out, and your ace pitched worse than Rick Dempsey in batting practice. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“It just wasn’t a good game. What can I tell you?” Mazzilli said after Thursday night’s loss.

Now I know why Beattie and Flanagan were so impressed.

Actually, it was a brilliant answer, because after your team is embarrassed like that, there is nothing to say, at least to the press and the public. It might be a good idea to have a few choices words for your team, and particularly Sir Sidney Ponson, who clearly misunderstands the role of being the No.1 guy on the staff. It doesn’t mean the guy with the highest ERA on the staff.

And he might have a few things to say to his bosses, the dynamic duo who hired him, such as, “How could you saddle me with such an unproven pitching staff this year?”

Really, the questions that need to be answered about the Orioles’ spiral should be directed at Beattie and Flanagan, not Mazzilli. How could two former major league pitchers make such a miscalculation as to go into the season in such a competitive division with four of his five starters — Eric DuBose, Matt Riley, Kurt Ainsworth and Erik Bedard — having a combined total of 10 major league wins among them?

If a team is fortunate, it will have one young pitcher emerge during the season as a reliable starter. The Orioles hoped for four. Two of them, Ainsworth and Riley, have already been sent to the minors and replaced with the most successful pitcher on the staff this year, Rodrigo Lopez, and a rookie from Class AA ball, Daniel Cabrera.

Of course, Lopez was the most successful pitcher while he was coming out of the bullpen as Mazzilli’s long man. Once the manager put him in the starting rotation out of desperation, he became just another mediocre starter (from 3-1 with an 0.33 ERA as a reliever to 0-1 and a 10.24 ERA as a starter). The move accelerated the inevitable collapse of the bullpen, which was bound to fall apart because of the failure of the starters to go deep into games.

So here we are, in the end of May, and the Orioles are already going into their August-September collapse. There is no reason to believe this will straighten itself out with the revolving door between Camden Yards and the farm system, the latest being sending reliever Denny Bautista back down to Class AA Bowie less than a week after calling him up and now bringing up reliever Eddy Rodriguez from Class AAA Ottawa.

“It was a great surprise to me,” Bautista said after he got the call to come to Baltimore. Even this kid knew it was a bizarre move. After all, he had been 2-4 with a 5.10 ERA with Bowie.

After just 43 games this season, the pitching situation is in chaos, and that is an indictment of Flanagan and Beattie, who you would think know enough about pitching not to make such a glaring and obvious miscalculation.

I wrote after the Orioles made their big splash with the signings of Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez and Rafael Palmeiro that this team had a good chance of being the Texas Rangers of 2003. They are on their way to fulfilling that prediction.

Last year’s Rangers had a great offense, scoring 826 runs, fifth best in the league, and leading the league with 239 home runs. But they were last in pitching, using 27 pitchers to compile a league-worst 5.67 ERA. They finished with a record of 71-91 — the same record the Orioles had.

The 2004 Orioles have a ways to go to match the Rangers’ offense. But they are right on target pitching wise, with a team ERA of 5.47 and having used 16 pitchers already this year.

Mazzilli did have a few things to say after the Yankee series ended. He said the three-game sweep was “not the whole season. We have a long way to go.”

Especially since they are right back where they started from — nowhere.

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