- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2002

BALTIMORE After the Baltimore Orioles' David Segui and Jeff Conine flew out with a runner on in the sixth inning last night, they slammed their helmets to the ground. For the Orioles, frustration is showing through for a team struggling mightily and failing badly to produce at the plate.
This time the Orioles managed just six hits in a 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Baltimore threatened in the bottom of the ninth, getting a leadoff homer from Jay Gibbons off former Oriole Esteban Yan and putting runners on second and third with one out. But Mike Bordick struck out and Jerry Hairston flied out to end it.
The Orioles, losers of their last six, have now scored 16 runs in seven games, including six in their last six.
"It sounds like a broken record I'm tired of saying it, and you're tired of hearing it," manager Mike Hargrove said. "If we continue to pitch well, we'll be all right. We have good proven hitters, and they will come around."
The belief may be there for Hargrove and players, but the fans need some convincing. Several foul balls thudded off the seats and concourses at Camden Yards, indicating the sparse crowd. Last night's crowd of 22,781 was an 11-year ballpark low for a non-makeup game.
Losing pitcher Jason Johnson battled through a poor outing to keep Baltimore in it. Johnson said he didn't feel strong and his location was off by at least a foot on some pitches, but in the end, he didn't pitch all that badly. In a span of 10 batters from the third through fifth innings, just one Devil Ray managed to get the ball out of the infield.
Tampa Bay's hits merely found holes at opportune times, and the visitors benefited from a couple of successful hit-and-runs. Johnson kept the Orioles in the game by surrendering three runs through five-plus innings, and though all three runs were earned, two errors didn't help him.
"I didn't feel the best, to be honest, but I'm not going to use that as an excuse why I didn't have control," Johnson said. "I just didn't pitch well tonight."
The Orioles scored one run in the first but advanced just one runner into scoring position until the seventh, when they loaded the bases on a single and two walks. Hairston grounded out to third to end the threat.
Winning pitcher Paul Wilson went seven strong innings, continuing his strong spring. The right-hander, a promising New York Mets product in the mid-1990s who never blossomed, has resurrected his career with the Devil Rays. He had the AL's best ERA in spring training and gave up one run in eight innings in his first start.
Johnson walked two in the first four innings but escaped damage until the fifth, when the Devil Rays staged a two-out uprising. Chris Gomez doubled just out of the reach of Gibbons in right. Gibbons' subsequent error and three singles led to two runs. Johnson avoided further damage by striking out cleanup man Greg Vaughn with runners on first and third to end the inning.
The Devil Rays got to Johnson again in the sixth. A one-out single by Ben Grieve and a double by Brent Abernathy finished Johnson. No.8 hitter Bobby Smith, batting .048, then singled off reliever Chris Brock to make it 3-1.
For the Orioles, likely improvement is on the horizon. After starting the season on the disabled list with a right quad strain, outfielder Marty Cordova is expected to come off the disabled list tomorrow, meaning Hargrove will have options in his lineup.
Mora currently plays left field where Cordova has primarily played in his career and Gibbons, the team's best hitter through six games, is the regular right-fielder. Mora will likely see some time in the outfield and at shortstop.
"Guys can only stay down for so long," said Chris Singleton, who is hitting .107. "Things have to start turning our way."
The smallest crowd in Camden Yards history was 21,748 for a June 20, 1996, makeup date against Texas. The previous low was 24,558 on April 16, 2001, against Tampa Bay.
With two days off early in the week, Hargrove has some flexibility with his rotation, but he will only switch Scott Erickson and Calvin Maduro. Sidney Ponson will start today, then, to begin the Orioles' 10-game road trip tomorrow at Chicago, Josh Towers, Erickson and Maduro, giving each pitcher six days' rest. Hargrove also is debating whether to stay with 11 pitchers or demote one of the Orioles' three catchers in favor of a 12th pitcher; he'll likely make that decision today.

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