O's Lively Bats Help Mercedes

Article excerpt

BALTIMORE - Jose Mercedes didn't give a performance worthy of his last name but it hardly mattered because the rest of the Baltimore Orioles' lineup seemed to be hitting on all cylinders.

It still may be early in the season, but the 2000 Orioles are a loose, confident and free-swinging group and yesterday they shrugged off an early hole that Mercedes, their fifth starter, dug for himself. They continued to slap away at the Detroit Tigers' iffy pitching en route to their fifth straight win, an 11-6 victory before 41,178 on a cold and blustery day at Camden Yards.

"We're getting production from every part of the lineup and the confidence is growing," said Will Clark, who moved from first base to designated hitter yesterday. "We're setting a good tone for the rest of the season. These games count just as much as the games in September and those games won't be important if we don't win these."

The Orioles offense produced 16 hits and scored their runs without the benefit of a home run or a triple. The Orioles knew that with a shaky pitching staff they would need to score plenty of runs to be successful and thus far, they've come through - except when Mike Mussina starts.

In the two games started by Mussina, the ace of the staff and one of the best pitchers in baseball, the Orioles have scored just three runs and needed an extra inning to get one of them. In their other four games, the Orioles have scored a whopping 42 runs.

"This team is going to score a lot of runs so the important thing is not to get too far behind," said Mercedes, who righted himself after a poor start. "When the team is scoring a lot, you can relax and pitch more aggressively."

After two straight losing seasons the Orioles' 5-1 start is certainly cause for optimism. It should be noted that just two years ago, Baltimore began the year 10-2 then collapsed and finished 79-82.

But that was the Ray Miller era and he never had the respect, or track record, that current manager Mike Hargrove has earned. According to veteran Orioles, the inexperienced Miller seemed like he was trying to prove his baseball prowess and often over-managed.

By contrast, Hargrove is making subtle moves and so far, they've been the right ones. Yesterday Hargrove rested Brady Anderson, Harold Baines and Charles Johnson - even though the catcher began the day leading the American League in home runs and RBI - against Tigers southpaw C.J. Nitkowski.

All the moves paid off. Rich Amaral, Anderson's replacement, went 3-for-5. …