- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2002

BALTIMORE There is no way to know what effect a healthy Pat Hentgen could have had on the Baltimore Orioles this season. Maybe his presence might have helped guide some of his younger teammates through this late-season swoon and help turn things around faster.
Or maybe the Orioles might still be languishing 13 games under the .500-mark which is where they stand after yesterday's 6-2 loss to the Anaheim Angels.
But know this: Everyone in a Baltimore uniform is grateful to have Hentgen back, even if only for the final three weeks of the season. The 33-year-old right-hander commands a respect not afforded anyone else on the pitching staff.
"His presence is unbelievable," said catcher and best friend Brook Fordyce, "and we've missed that all year long."
Even in the loss yesterday the Orioles' 14th in their last 15 games there was a different air around the home clubhouse. As bad as the last two weeks have been, it can only get better from here.
And Hentgen's return to the starting rotation, 13 months removed from elbow ligament replacement surgery, can only have a positive effect.
"He's been with the club sporadically [while rehabbing]," manager Mike Hargrove said. "And while he's been here, he's always been good, especially with our young pitchers. Having him around full time is an added benefit in that regard."
Neither Hentgen nor the Orioles knew quite what to expect from his first major-league appearance since May 16, 2001. In the end, they saw a reincarnation of the steady and reliable right-hander who out-pitched Pedro Martinez on Opening Day last season, but one who still needs to build up strength to go deep into games.
Despite some first-inning jitters, Hentgen held the high-flying Angels to one run on six hits through his first five innings. But after 81 pitches through five innings, he hit the proverbial wall and served up a three-run homer to Troy Glaus and a solo shot to Bengie Molina, which gave Anaheim a 5-1 lead.
"I thought after the first inning I got in a nice groove and started hitting my spots," said Hentgen (0-1). "It's unfortunate that the sixth inning just fell apart on me.
"I'm trying to look at the positives. I look at the five innings I did prior to the sixth and just try to build on that."
Glaus padded the Angels' cushion with a solo homer in the eighth off Rick Bauer, and the slumping Orioles' offense was again held in check, this time by Anaheim ace Jarrod Washburn (17-5) and a pair of relievers.
"This is not fun, plain and simple, for any of us," said Hargrove, who has seen his team slip from the .500 mark to two games ahead of fourth-place Toronto. "But the thing of it is, we didn't stop playing hard. That's the good thing. That's what you like to see. This team doesn't have any quit in it, and it hasn't backed off."
Hargrove was talking about his team as a whole, but he could have been referring to Hentgen, because those "bulldog" qualities epitomize him as a pitcher.
Signed as a free agent before the 2001 season, the former Cy Young Award winner made only nine appearances and went 2-3 with the Orioles before tearing an elbow ligament, which necessitated Tommy John surgery. But even during that short time, Hentgen made an indelible impression on his teammates with his work ethic and accountability.
When Hentgen pitched poorly, he accepted the blame. But even when he pitched well and was done in by poor defense or a lackluster offense, he never once pointed a finger at his teammates. He stood up for them and took responsibility in a manner you won't find from another Orioles veteran pitcher, Scott Erickson.
And he is more than willing to help out a younger teammate in times of need, which is why the Orioles are expected to re-sign him for 2003 (the club has a $6 million option, but could choose to renegotiate to a smaller salary with another option year attached).
"He's always talking baseball in the dugout, whether the guy's pitching or not," said Fordyce, who offered to let Hentgen live with him this season. "I think that his preparation is going to rub off on the guys who are here now. They'll see how he goes about it. He doesn't have the best stuff, but he competes and knows the execution. For him to rub off on some of these guys, it's going to better them more than him."
And, in the long run, the Orioles.
Notes Right-hander Jason Johnson continues to be bothered by a stomach virus that limited him to 2 2/3 innings in his last start Thursday. Hargrove said if the condition does not improve, Johnson may have to be pulled from tomorrow's scheduled start in the first game of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. The Orioles are attempting to go with a six-man rotation the rest of the season.
Outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. (right wrist tendinitis) is eligible to come off the disabled list, but appears to still be several days away from returning.


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