- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

CLEVELAND The Baltimore Orioles reached the quarter-mark of their 2002 season last night. At least, they were supposed to play game No. 40 on their schedule before rain washed out their series finale with the Cleveland Indians.

After waiting two hours through a steady drizzle that turned heavy at times, officials called off the game at Jacobs Field. No makeup date was announced, and since this was to be the last game of the season between the Orioles and Indians, a one-day trip back to Cleveland is likely. The most convenient could be Aug. 12, when the Orioles have a travel day from Detroit to Minnesota and the Indians have an off-day.

That will all be determined later. For now, manager Mike Hargrove was willing to give his first full assessment of his ballclub's performance, whether 40 games into the season or only 39.

"I think that this ballclub is in a lot better position right now than any of the so-called experts would have given us credit for this winter and in spring training," said Hargrove, despite the Orioles' four-game losing streak that has dropped their record to 18-21.

"We obviously have needs, we knew that going in. But I think that we've seen good things on the whole out of our young people, which is what we've wanted to see."

Hargrove points to rookie pitchers Rodrigo Lopez (5-0, 2.01 ERA), Jorge Julio (seven saves, 2.70 ERA) and Rick Bauer (2.61 ERA in a set-up role), plus first-year catcher Geronimo Gil (.275 average, five homers, 17 RBI) as the most pleasant surprises of the early season.

Throw in third baseman Tony Batista's team-high 10 homers and 30 RBI, outfielder Jay Gibbons' nine homers and the strong return of veteran right-hander Scott Erickson (3-3, 4.09 ERA), and Hargrove has few complaints about the first month and a half of the season.

"That's not to say that we are even close to being a finished product," he said. "We are not. But the pieces that need to fall into place look as if they have a chance to fall into place. Our young people are better today than they were a month ago or even two months ago."

Hargrove's commitment to this ballclub was never more evident than in the moments after Wednesday's 3-1 loss to the Indians, which came on the heels of a ninth-inning collapse the previous night.

Those expecting the manager to sulk over another tough loss were surprised to hear him rave about his players' effort and the continued potential he sees from this franchise.

"I don't know of any team I have enjoyed managing more than this team right now," said Hargrove, who led the Indians to five AL Central titles in the '90s. "There are good veterans here. There are good young players. They all listen to what we as coaches have to say to them. They take it in. They work hard at what they do. They stay focused. And they don't like to get beat."

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