- The Washington Times - Monday, May 20, 2002

BALTIMORE In his two-plus seasons managing the Baltimore Orioles, rarely has Mike Hargrove felt the need to give his players a tongue-lashing. This season, Hargrove has spoken glowingly about the daily effort he receives from this ballclub.
Which made yesterday's decidedly lackluster effort in a 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays particularly troubling, so much so that Hargrove felt the need to hold a closed-door team meeting following the game.
"We were flat today," said Hargrove, who wouldn't comment on the nature of his postgame words. "That was one of the first times all year that we were mentally flat. And any time you're flat is one time too many."
The meeting was brief, only about 10 minutes, but Hargrove's message was clear: The Orioles showed no energy yesterday, and in doing so they lost to the last-place Devil Rays for the fourth time in six games.
As one player put it, "They shoved it up our butt."
"It's hard to say why it happened," catcher Brook Fordyce said. "Here was a series that we probably should have won two out of three."
The Orioles' missed opportunity actually extends further back than this weekend. With yesterday's loss, they completed an 11-game stretch against Cleveland and Tampa Bay (both sub-.500 teams), during which time they won just three times and saw their record fall from 16-15 to 19-23.
They lost three times in the last week on ninth-inning homers and yesterday were held to five singles by a pair of Devil Rays pitchers who had one combined victory in their major-league careers.
"That's a first this year. We just came in a little flat," outfielder Jay Gibbons said. "We've lost some tough games lately, and maybe that contributed to it."
Making matters worse, after an off-day today, Baltimore heads west to Oakland to open a 16-game stretch in which it will face the Athletics, Mariners and Yankees, all teams that made the playoffs last season.
"We were playing good baseball there, and now we've retreated a couple of steps," said Scott Erickson, who allowed three runs in 6⅓ innings yesterday and took the loss. "We're not going to win many games if we play like we did today."
The lack of energy in the ballpark was evident right from the start, with the Orioles giving the Camden Yards crowd of 37,590 little reason to make noise. Baltimore's first two batters of the game Melvin Mora and Chris Singleton singled off Tampa Bay starter Travis Harper, but the next three batters failed to get the ball out of the infield.
That seemed to set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
"It was kind of a blase day," first baseman Jeff Conine said.
The Orioles never really threatened again. Relatively obscure Devil Rays Harper (1-1) and reliever Steve Kent combined to allow three hits over the final eight innings. Harper, who had won just once in eight previous appearances between Tampa Bay and Class AAA Durham, kept Baltimore's batters off-balance through five innings, though he didn't make a particularly devastating impression on them.
"I don't think he overpowered us by any means," Fordyce said.
Kent, a left-handed reliever who never pitched above Class A before this season, allowed one hit over the last four innings to earn his first career save.
Erickson (3-4) didn't pitch poorly, but he was the victim of a poorly placed fastball to Greg Vaughn in the fourth inning, and the formerly slumping designated hitter crushed it to left-center for a two-run homer. When Vaughn went deep again off Willis Roberts in the eighth, it was his fourth homer in less than 24 hours and the first time he's had back-to-back multihomer games in his career.
A fitting cap to a spiritless day.
"There was just no energy, no energy from anybody today," Hargrove said. "It's particularly frustrating when that happens and there's not that spark there that's usually there with this club."
The Orioles believe they have spotted a mechanical flaw in rookie closer Jorge Julio that might help explain his sudden downturn.
After recording saves in seven of his first eight chances, Julio has given up three homers with two outs in the ninth in the last week. The right-hander has noted how he's having trouble locating his slider and is thus having to rely too heavily on his fastball.
After watching videotapes, pitching coach Mark Wiley noticed that Julio isn't getting his weight back far enough, which could lead to decreased velocity and pitches up in the strike zone.
Said Hargrove: "There's some things we're seeing in his setup that if adjusted I think will help a lot."
The club wants injured right-hander Jason Johnson (out with a fractured right middle finger) to throw one more time on the side before making a decision where and when to begin his rehab assignment. Johnson could make the first of two starts next weekend at either Class AA Bowie, Class A Frederick or the Orioles' extended spring training camp in Sarasota, Fla.

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