- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2001


MINNEAPOLIS Pat Hentgen tries not to overanalyze his first month with the Baltimore Orioles too much, but even the consummate team player in him recognizes he's done about as much as the Orioles could ask. Still, his record dropped to 1-3 after yesterday's 4-0 loss to the Minnesota Twins.

"You look at my six starts, and I've kept the team in the game. That's a big factor," said Hentgen, who has a 3.32 ERA and is among the league leaders in innings pitched. "Sometimes you have no control over what happens with the wins and the losses. But you do have control over what goes on inning-by-inning and pitch-by-pitch."

Which would explain why the 32-year-old Orioles ace wasn't too pleased with his performance yesterday, his least effective of the season.

"I didn't spot my fastball very well at all. I ended up making some mistakes out over the middle of the plate," Hentgen said following a five-inning, four-run outing against the Twins. "You do that against a team like this, and they're going to hit it hard."

Hentgen's undoing yesterday was a three-run fourth inning that resulted in all the run production the Twins needed. Corey Koskie provided the big hit with a two-run homer to right, but Hentgen was more upset about his 1-2 pitch to leadoff hitter Cristian Guzman, who poked the ball down the right-field line for his sixth triple of the year.

"That really hurt me," Hentgen said. "I'm in a good pitcher's count there, I made a bad pitch up in the zone and he hits it down the line for a triple."

After five straight solid starts to begin his Orioles career, Hentgen certainly couldn't be held accountable for one poor outing. Then again, even if the right-hander had tossed an eight-inning gem, it wouldn't have produced a different outcome because Baltimore's offense again failed to do anything against a previously unknown pitcher.

Twins left-hander J.C. Romero joined the likes of Tomo Ohka, Albie Lopez, Chris Holt and Joe Mays as recent Oriole killers, tossing six scoreless innings to earn his first win in 12 starts. Romero, who held a 12.27 ERA in two previous appearances against Baltimore, gave up three singles and three walks, struck out seven and never found himself in any real danger.

Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove fielded his 24th different lineup in 25 games yesterday, putting third baseman Mike Kinkade in the cleanup spot and Cal Ripken at designated hitter for this first time this season. Jeff Conine, suffering from a bruise on his left hand, would have been in the lineup but was replaced by left-handed hitting first baseman Chris Richard.

The changes didn't offer much relief for a Baltimore offense that is batting a collective .227, worst in the major leagues. Jerry Hairston walked and Brady Anderson reached on an error in the top of the third, but Romero got Mike Bordick to ground out to third and Delino DeShields struck out to end the inning.

A walk, a single and a groundout put Oriole runners on second and third in the top of the sixth, but Romero (1-1) struck out both Ripken and Richard his sixth and seventh of the game to escape the jam.

"Sure, you hit .230 and it's a concern," Hargrove said of his team's offensive woes. "But we've got good hitters in our lineup. We'll keep plugging away and get it back where it should be."

Romero gave way to four Twins relievers, who combined to shut down the Orioles over the last three innings. Baltimore tried to offer up a ninth-inning rally with hits by Richard and Melvin Mora, but Minnesota closer LaTroy Hawkins got Brook Fordyce to foul out to end the game. It was Hawkins' eighth save, extending his major league record of consecutive saves to start a career to 22.

Hentgen's five-inning stint was his shortest outing of the season, though he was the victim of a rare defensive gaffe by Jerry Hairston. The usually slick-fielding second baseman threw the ball away when he rushed a throw to Richard in the fourth.

"It was one of those things where I should have known better," Hairston said. "If I just take my time instead of trying to hit him on the run … It's totally my fault."

Despite the loss, the Orioles return home having won five of the nine games on this road trip, with a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and a much-anticipated four-game set with the New York Yankees in the week ahead.

"Anytime you go on the road and finish over .500 you take it," Hargrove said. "It's been a good trip for us."

Notes Left-hander B.J. Ryan threw three scoreless innings in relief of Hentgen yesterday, a strong follow-up to Thursday's 3 1/3-inning outing at Detroit. In his last two appearances, Ryan has lowered his ERA from 5.68 to 3.55… .

Right-hander Sidney Ponson, eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list tomorrow, threw on the side before yesterday's game and is scheduled to make a rehab start for the Bowie Baysox on Friday… .

Hargrove has yet to decide whether Chuck McElroy will start Thursday's series-opener against the Yankees but expects to know by today.

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