- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2001


CLEVELAND The pitching, once again, was there. The offense, however, was nowhere to be found. And the Baltimore Orioles are quickly learning they won't win many games with only three hits.

"We're not hitting collectively like we can," said Delino DeShields following the Orioles' 4-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians yesterday at Jacobs Field. "We may not hit a lot of home runs, but we're a better hitting team than we showed today.

"We're going to hit. You just hope the staff doesn't start thinking they have to do it all."

Through the first six games of the season, Baltimore's pitchers practically have done it all, combining to post a 2.25 team ERA, second-best in the American League. Yet the Orioles leave town with a 3-3 record, in large part because their hitters have combined to post an AL-worst .165 batting average and .239 slugging percentage.

Those numbers appeared to be headed upward for a few brief moments yesterday. Baltimore jumped on Cleveland rookie pitcher C.C. Sabathia early when Jeff Conine blasted a three-run homer in the top of the first inning.

With their season-opening home run drought of five games most since the 1988 season behind them, little did anyone know the Orioles would have only four more baserunners and one clean hit the rest of the day.

"You've got to hope when you get three in the first that you're hopefully looking for a big day for the team," Conine said. "But they shut us down pretty well after that."

Sabathia, the much-hyped, 6-foot-7, 20-year-old who was making his major-league debut, settled down after a quick trip to the mound by Indians pitching coach Dick Pole. Sabathia, after relying almost exclusively on a fastball that reached the 99-mph mark in the first inning, began mixing his pitches and stifled the Orioles for the next five innings.

By the time Sabathia left the game to a standing ovation from the crowd of 40,754, he had given up just one more hit (a fourth-inning double to Brook Fordyce) and one walk and shown plenty of poise for someone who had never pitched above Class AA.

"People who have good talent have a way of holding their own," Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove said. "Dick made a good visit there in the first inning. [Sabathia] probably learned a good lesson that harder isn't always better."

The Orioles fared no better against the Indians bullpen. Justin Speier (1-0), Paul Shuey and Bob Wickman, who got his second save, combined for no hits and just two walks over the game's final 3 1/3 innings.

Baltimore didn't get a brilliant start out of left-hander Chuck McElroy, but did get what it wanted from the veteran in his first outing of the season: five innings, two runs, four hits, two walks and four strikeouts.

"I'd be happier if we had won," said McElroy, who made just the third start of his 11-year career. "It'd be a much easier flight [to Boston]."

McElroy's only mistakes were a 2-0 changeup to Ellis Burks in the second and a 1-0 fastball to Russell Branyan in the fifth. Both pitches were promptly launched into the picnic area behind the center field fence.

Limited to 79 pitches because he hasn't been a starting pitcher long, McElroy gave way to an Orioles bullpen that hadn't given up a run yet this year. Calvin Maduro (0-1) got into trouble, though, in the seventh, when he gave up a leadoff double to Einar Diaz and a walk to Omar Vizquel.

Hargrove brought in rookie Willis Roberts to face Juan Gonzalez, and the Cleveland slugger sent Roberts' 97-mph inside fastball over third baseman Cal Ripken's head for a two-run single that put the Indians up for good.

Now trailing 4-3, the Orioles could muster no late rally and went down in order in the eighth. Wickman retired DeShields and Conine to lead off the ninth, then walked pinch hitter Jay Gibbons. But David Segui, pinch-hitting for Fordyce, was called out looking his sixth strikeout in 18 at-bats this season to end the game.

Segui and Ripken, who both missed significant time this spring with injuries, are a combined 3-for-34 in the regular season.

"That's only two spots in the lineup," Hargrove said. "We don't have anybody really swinging a hot bat right now. You just have to be patient and let it come. We're only six games into the season."

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