- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2001

BOSTON In the Baltimore Orioles' clubhouse at Jacobs Field following Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians, Delino DeShields was asked about the team's dismal offensive showing through the season's first six games.

"We're not hitting collectively like we can," DeShields said. "We've got to keep working."

Asked what he thought about his own performance over the last week, DeShields epitomized his teammates' sentiments, rattling off a series of disgusted grunts before reiterating, "Like I said, we've got to keep working."

As the Orioles' 2001 season enters its second week with a three-game series at Boston commencing tonight no one is immune from the hitting virus that has inflicted the Baltimore lineup.

Brady Anderson's batting average: .125. DeShields: .111. Jeff Conine: .133. Brook Fordyce: .188. David Segui: .111. Melvin Mora: .095. Cal Ripken: .063.

The team's top run-producer is Conine with four RBI, but three of those came on his first-inning home run Sunday the first by an Orioles player this season.

Only a week ago, Baltimore's biggest concern appeared to be a thin pitching staff. Its lineup, while short on power, was viewed as reliable at worst, capable of bunching several hits together and manufacturing a few runs.

The team batted an impressive .286 this spring, winning 18 of 31 exhibition games. But …

"It's different when it doesn't count," Conine said. "There's no pressure. It's a different kind of concentration you've got to have."

Six games into the season, the Orioles' pitching has been outstanding. The team has a collective 2.25 ERA, second only to the Red Sox in the American League, and the starting rotation is averaging two runs and five hits surrendered an outing.

Baltimore's offense, meanwhile, is averaging 2.3 runs and 5.2 hits a game, leading to a horrific .165 team batting average and an even more frightening .239 slugging percentage.

"That's one of my worst fears, to do really well in spring training and then come out here and be like, where did it go?" DeShields said. "You can't keep saying it's early forever, but it is early. We just have to keep battling."

Indeed, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove is far from searching for the panic button. His everyday lineup features a wealth of veteran hitters who have proved their consistency over the years, players like Ripken, Segui and Mike Bordick.

"You've got to be patient," Hargrove said. "We've got good hitters in our lineup. It's just a matter of time before they start hitting."

In their defense, the Orioles have faced an intimidating array of pitchers over the last week, from Pedro Martinez on Opening Day, to Hideo Nomo, who no-hit them two nights later, to Indians fireballer Bartolo Colon on Friday, to 6-foot-7 rookie left-hander C.C. Sabathia on Sunday.

"Usually I give credit to pitching when a team gets shut down," Anderson said. "We've had some pretty good pitching performances against us. And we've pitched well against teams, too."

The task doesn't get any easier tonight. Baltimore is in the unusual and unenviable position of having to face Nomo for a second-straight outing. The Japanese right-hander will be out to duplicate one of the most dramatic achievements in baseball history: Johnny Vander Meer's back-to-back no-hitters.

Conine has some advice for his teammates, who might be starting to feel the pressure that comes with a prolonged offensive drought.

"Just everybody relax a little bit," he said. "I know for myself, that's as good as I've ever felt in spring. When the bell rings, you want to do a little more or do even better. But you can't try any harder. There's such a thing as trying too hard."

And ultimately, despite their offensive shortcomings, the Orioles do own a 3-3 record against playoff-contending teams in Boston and Cleveland. Few, if any, figured they would open the season playing .500 ball.

"I think it's encouraging," Ripken said. "Our pitching has been really consistently good. We haven't swung the bat real well yet, but some of that has to do with the caliber of pitching we're facing, too. We've been in every game, we're playing hard, trying to make things happen. I wouldn't overanalyze too much over whether we're 3-3 or 4-2 or whatever. You are what you are."

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