- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2000

TORONTO The starting rotation was supposed to be a strength for the Baltimore Orioles. Instead it has turned into a weakness.

And Scott Erickson's return to the rotation was supposed to be an asset. Instead it has been a liability.

The Orioles were supposed to contend for a playoff spot. Instead they're below .500 for the first time since Opening Day after losing to the Toronto Blue Jays 7-2 last night before 15,598 at SkyDome.

Someday, the Orioles (16-17) are going to win a game in SkyDome but not on this trip. The Orioles were swept in the three-game series and have lost 12 games at Skydome and 13 straight to the Blue Jays, who improved to 19-17.

"Good teams win ball games, and bad ones lose them," said Erickson, who made just his second start of the season. "Right now we're just not playing well. It's not hard to figure out."

The Orioles have lost four straight games and seven of their last eight as they limp home to play the second-place Boston Red Sox.

"Hopefully, this is our only bad cycle of the season," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said.

The glaring problem behind their recent struggles has been pitching. While the Orioles' embattled bullpen it has blown eight saves has deserved most of the blame, the recent slide can be linked to the Orioles' starters not getting the job done.

The starters have an ERA of 5.43. With the exception of a three-run outing by Pat Rapp on Saturday, they haven't had a solid performance from a starter since Mike Mussina's one-run complete game April 29.

"It doesn't do any good to sit around and mope about lack of this or lack of that," Hargrove said. "The bottom line is that we have to win as a team and take advantage of whatever chances we get together."

Erickson missed the entire month of April because of elbow surgery March 3. The Orioles felt fortunate to end the month 14-10 and figured they would get a boost from the return of their workhorse, who finished last season winning 14 of his final 18 decisions.

Instead, Erickson has looked more like the pitcher who began last season 1-8. In his first start against the Yankees on Friday, Erickson gave up five runs and eight hits in six innings. He admitted after that start he "still has a long way to go" to feel 100 percent, and yesterday he appeared to get no closer.

The Blue Jays showered Erickson with 12 hits and seven runs in 2 and 2/3 innings. A notorious inducer of ground balls, Erickson wasn't helped by the fast SkyDome turf. Several grounders that likely would have been outs on grass instead skidded into the outfield.

With the exception of a solo homer by Tony Batista in the second and a double by Homer Bush in the third that drove in two, all of the hits Erickson allowed were singles.

"It was embarrassing and ugly," Erickson said. "But the really irritating part was the home run. All the rest of the hits were just singles."

Erickson said despite the poor showing, he felt better than he did Friday.

"I know it wasn't pretty out there, but I actually felt pretty good out there… . It was the best I've felt in a long time… . I don't expect too many more games like this."

The Orioles actually led the game 1-0 after Albert Belle's homer to lead off the second. But they could manage little else off Lance Painter, who made his first start after being summoned from the bullpen.

At one point, the left-hander got six straight outs via strikeouts. Painter lasted five innings and gave up just two hits.

"Painter was on fire," Hargrove said. "It wasn't until Mike Bordick's third at-bat that he got a pitch that was a ball."

After tying the game on Batista's homer, the Blue Jays chipped away at Erickson in the third. Eight of the first nine batters reached base as the Blue Jays went up 7-1.

Three Orioles pitched 5 and 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, but all the Orioles could manage offensively was an RBI single from Ryan Minor in the sixth that scored Brady Anderson.

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