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Ditzel - Orioles fans are in for some suffering

March 19, 2002|BY AL DITZEL

With Major League Baseball's first regular-season pitch scheduled just 12 days away, it's time to look at what to expect from the Baltimore Orioles.

At a glance, it looks bleak. Closer up, it gets worse.

Not only has Cal Ripken Jr. retired, but the O's have done little to improve on a team that went 63-98 last year.

Yes, they acquired free agent Marty Cordova. Yes, he probably will add some pop to the lineup. Yes, a full season from Jay Gibbons, David Segui and Mike Bordick would help.

But, to be honest, the O's will be hard-pressed to fend off 100 losses this season.

Scott Erickson, after nearly two years off (he struggled with an elbow injury for most of the 2000 season and was out all of 2001), is scheduled to be the opening-day starter. That's because last year's No. 1 starter, Pat Hentgen, is still hurt.

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Erickson might be able to pitch well. He's thrown some significant innings this spring, but to ask Erickson to be your No. 1 pitcher is a lot. In his 12 innings of work thus far, he's allowed only four earned runs which equals out to a 3.00 ERA. That is deceptive. Erickson has allowed 18 hits and only struck out four.

Following in the rotation are Josh Towers, Sidney Ponson, Jason Johnson in no particular order and, uh, don't know.

Closing this season with either Willis Roberts or Buddy Groom. Do we really need a closer look at that?

Defensively, the O's are anything but spectacular. Former Arizona Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter has been openly critical of Tony Batista's range, even at third base. Showalter is on record saying that if Batista, who played shortstop for Arizona, hits 40 home runs, he's a liability. But, if Batista struggles, as he did last year, he may be better served as trade bait.

Bordick (shortstop), Jeff Conine (first base) and Cordova (left field) are functional. Gibbons (right field) is moving across the outfield from left. Jerry Hairston or Brian Roberts at second base, along with Chris Singleton in center field, will provide the best defense for Baltimore.

Am I forgetting catcher Brook Fordyce? Not really, if he could return to his abilities of two years ago, he'd be fine. If he doesn't, likely he'll platoon.

Offensively, this lineup will not strike fear in the Yankees. None of the Yankees.

ESPN previews each team each season. This year ESPN put Bordick in the No. 3 spot in the batting order. Bordick is not Alex Rodriguez nor Nomar Garciaparra. Let's say ESPN is wrong and Bordick will not bat No. 3.

Who will? Right now, Cordova might be best suited, or maybe Segui.

But, if Boston has another year or injuries, Toronto continues to downgrade its talent, and Tampa Bay remains an expansion franchise, Baltimore may not be the worst team in the AL East. Unfortunately, the O's will be close.

Finally, what to do. It's not fair to state the problems without coming up with a solution. How about sticking with the youngsters like Gibbons, Roberts, Ponson, Singleton and Chris Richard, when he returns from injury, and trade the veterans to get team salary down and try to rebuild.

Al Ditzel is a staff writer for The Morning Herald. His colum appears every other Tuesday. He can be reached at alfredd@herald-mail.com or 301-733-5131 ext. 7520.

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