- The Washington Times - Monday, August 19, 2002

BALTIMORE With little left to play for this season other than a shot at the .500 mark, the Baltimore Orioles are now in a position to start building for next year.

For struggling ballclubs, August and September are a time to look at young players with an eye on the future. And for Scott Erickson, that could mean a premature end to a season that has methodically lost its meaning.

With another poor effort yesterday in the Orioles' 7-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers, Erickson's season back from major elbow surgery was dealt another blow. And there's little reason to believe things will get better over the next six weeks.

Baltimore's Opening Day starter lasted just three innings in the 99-degree heat yesterday, giving up three runs and nine hits to the last-place Tigers. Combined with his previous five starts, Erickson is 1-2 with a 9.55 ERA and 48 hits allowed in his last 27⅓ innings.

For that reason Orioles manager Mike Hargrove may soon need to decide whether his team would be better off with someone else taking Erickson's spot in the starting rotation.

"We've got to have a viable alternative to do that, and we're not afforded that luxury right now," said Hargrove, whose team is in the midst of a 14-game, 13-day stretch. "Maybe later in the month or when we get to September we might seriously look at that, but right now I don't think we can."

The Orioles are staring at a potential rotation logjam once rosters expand Sept. 1. Sidney Ponson is on the disabled list with a partial tear of the labrum in his right shoulder, but doctors may allow him to continue to pitch with the injury. Rookie John Stephens, who has taken Ponson's place for now, has shown enough in four starts to remain in the rotation the rest of the way.

And Pat Hentgen, who underwent Tommy John surgery last August, continues to shoot for a September return, during which time he hopes to convince the club to pick up his $6 million option for 2003.

Put it all together, and Hargrove probably will have more starting pitchers than available spots as the season winds down.

"That's something I've been thinking about now for about 10 days, and I don't have an answer to that," he said. "We'll come up with something."

Erickson (5-11, 5.03 ERA) didn't make a strong case yesterday to remain in the picture. He allowed at least two runners to reach base in each of his four innings, though the Tigers helped him out by stranding six men and missing a golden opportunity to score another run in the fourth.

Already up 3-1, Detroit had the bases loaded with one out when Randall Simon flied out to left field. Matt Walbeck tagged up from third and crossed the plate but not before Baltimore's Melvin Mora gunned down George Lombard at third base. The run was wiped off the scoreboard, and Erickson escaped without further damage.

Hargrove, however, had seen enough, so he pulled his starter after just 71 pitches in favor of long reliever Chris Brock.

"I came in and he said that's enough. No debate, no discussion," Erickson said. "I'm sure he was tired of watching me do what I've done the last four or five starts. I had no room to argue with him."

The Orioles managed to come back and tie the game with a three-run fifth against Tigers starter Brian Powell, but they gave the lead right back in the sixth on a walk, a single and two errors.

Brock (1-1) wound up taking the loss, but it was Erickson's poor start that set the tone for the entire afternoon.

"He looks healthy, feels healthy, his velocity is 90-92 [mph]. So you've got to assume he's healthy," Hargrove said. "He works hard, he's a good guy. He's got all these things working for him, but the thing he's got working against him is that he had a year off. And it just takes time to get it back. I don't know if that's why we're seeing what we're seeing out of Scotty."

Notes The Orioles inducted three new members into their Hall of Fame yesterday. Pitchers Dennis Martinez (who won 108 games in 11 seasons) and Hoyt Wilhelm (who threw the first no-hitter in franchise history) and late public address announcer Rex Barney were honored during a pregame ceremony.

Yesterday's crowd of 30,905 was the smallest Sunday afternoon gathering at Camden Yards this season.

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