- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2002

BALTIMORE There is perhaps no greater commodity in baseball than good, young pitching, which explains why teams are always so reluctant to part ways with young hurlers who are slow to develop.

The Orioles' pitching staff is loaded with young arms, some of them struggling, some of them succeeding in the major leagues. Rookies Rodrigo Lopez (6-1, 2.51 ERA), Jorge Julio (3.26 ERA, 12 saves), and emerging sensation Travis Driskill are undoubtedly succeeding right now. Relievers Willis Roberts and B.J. Ryan were not on top of their games last night, but Tony Batista saved the day by homering in the bottom of the 10th to give the Orioles a 6-5 win over the San Diego Padres.

Batista led off the inning by belting a 2-2 slider to left field off J.J. Trujillo, a 26-year-old Padres right-hander making his major-league debut.

"I was waiting for that pitch," said Batista, who leads the team with 16 homers. "He got it inside, and I hit it pretty good."

Trujillo, a sidearming right-hander who was called up earlier in the day from Class AA, was a complete mystery to the Orioles. When Batista came to bat in the 10th, the Baltimore third baseman knew nothing about the man standing on the pitcher's mound, other than what he picked up while watching Trujillo warm up.

"He doesn't know me, I don't know him," Batista said. "So we're just going to meet each other right there for the game."

Driskill, the 30-year-old rookie right-hander who has already beaten the Oakland A's, Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees on the road in the last three weeks, brought his show to Camden Yards last night. He wasn't quite as sharp as in those previous appearances, but he pitched well enough to deserve the win.

With 6⅓ strong innings on a sweltering, 97-degree night, Driskill didn't get it, though he has helped contribute to an increasingly impressive stat.

Orioles rookie pitchers have combined to win 16 games this season, far and away the most in baseball. It's one thing to throw young guys into the fire. It's another to see them emerge with few scars.

"I'm going to tell you the truth," Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove said. "When Travis is on the mound, I feel pretty good about it, I really do."

Ryan and Roberts were the ones to get burned last night; the two setup men nearly blew what looked to be an easy victory. Ryan put three batters on base to open the eighth, and Roberts followed by walking Ron Gant on four pitches and surrendering a two-run single to Bubba Trammell that tied the game 5-5.

The Orioles had a chance to win it in the bottom of the eighth, but with two outs and runners on the corners, Melvin Mora inexplicably tried to bunt his way on. San Diego reliever Steve Reed fielded the ball with no trouble and threw Mora out to quash the rally.

Like the Orioles, the Padres are a young and rebuilding team with a host of rookie pitchers on their staff. Manager Bruce Bochy, though, likely would trade both an arm and a leg if he could get the kind of performance from his young pitchers that Hargrove is getting from his.

"We've just got a lot of guys who throw strikes and who throw quality strikes," Driskill said of the Orioles' inexperienced pitching staff.

For the second night in a row, Baltimore pounded San Diego's rookie pitchers into submission. Monday night, the victims were Dennis Tankersley and Jeremy Fikac, whose performances were deemed so unacceptable by Padres management that they were shipped out of town yesterday. Both pitchers were optioned to the minors, not to Class AAA Portland but all the way to Class AA Mobile.

Kevin Pickford, last night's starter, can only hope he does not meet the same fate, though he sure looked like a reincarnation of Tankersley one day later.

The rookie left-hander lost his only other start in the majors May 25 at Milwaukee, giving up two runs but walking six in four innings against the last-place Brewers. Last night, he flirted with disaster in each of the first three innings but emerged having surrendered just one run on Jeff Conine's RBI double in the first.

Pickford wasn't nearly so fortuitous in the fourth. Batista and Marty Cordova hit back-to-back ground-rule doubles to start things off. Jerry Hairston added an RBI double to left, and Mora capped the hitting spree with a two-run single to left-center.

Driskill and Julio (who earned the win in relief) provided the kind of outings the Padres would love to get from their rookie pitchers. At the moment, though, that organization doesn't appear to have young talent to match the Orioles.

Not that San Diego's minor-league system has been completely devoid of quality arms. When the Padres take the field for this afternoon's series finale, they'll see a familiar face on the pitcher's mound: Lopez, a 26-year-old former San Diego farmhand who is now making a case for an All-Star Game appearance as an Oriole.

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