Young ace Coppinger leaves, but not willingly Reassigned pitcher sneaks back on field

Orioles notebook

March 15, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora and Buster Olney

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Rocky Coppinger is gone, but he's not forgotten.

Coppinger, the Orioles' best pitching prospect and one of the top talents in all of baseball, was one of eight players reassigned yesterday. Coppinger gave up one run, two walks and struck out four in seven innings this spring.

"I told [Coppinger] that I started seeing some of our starters getting nervous, so I had to get him out of here," manager Davey Johnson joked. "But I've got a phone number where I can reach him, so we're all right. I like to have some horses in Triple-A. I wouldn't hesitate to call him up. He's got a great future."

Infielders Brad Tyler and Scott McClain and pitcher Brian Sackinsky were sent to Triple-A Rochester and reliever Billy Percibal was optioned to Double-A Bowie. Outfielders Jarvis Brown and Greg Blosser and pitcher Jim Dedrick were reassigned to minor-league camp and they too will likely end up in Rochester. Coppinger, 22, has exceled in the minors, going 20-6 with a 2.49 ERA in two years and at three different levels. He said he's disappointed he couldn't stay in camp longer, and he even tried to extend his visit. He sneaked on the field for the pre-game workout, but he was quickly found out.

"Oh, man, I thought I could sneak out there and stay awhile," Coppinger said. "I wasn't even supposed to be here in the first place. I only had seven innings, but they were all quality innings. Davey told me to keep pitching and I just might get that call."

Smith says he belongs

Tony Tarasco's arrival has intensified the outfield competition.

Mark Smith is one of the guys battling to make the squad as a fourth or fifth outfielder. Smith is hitting .400 with two RBIs this spring. He broke through with the Orioles last season, getting 104 at-bats with the big club and hitting .231 with three homers and 15 RBIs.

"I think I definitely deserve a chance with Baltimore," said Smith, 25. "I've played three years at Triple-A and I was an All-Star two of those years. I can't prove anything else in the minors."

Haynes strengthens stock

Jimmy Haynes is showing why he was the odds-on favorite to head north as the Orioles' fifth starter.

Haynes threw four hitless, shutout innings against Montreal on Wednesday and has a 3.38 ERA and six strikeouts in eight innings this spring. He baffled the Expos with just one pitch a fastball.

"I'm really happy with my performance this spring," Haynes said. "My curve was up and down, but I had good movement on my fastball. It gave me a lot of confidence to go through a lineup like that with only one pitch working."

Johnson said Haynes, 12-8, 3.29 in Rochester last year, has done nothing to diminish his stock.

"He's thrown the ball pretty well," Johnson said. "He could've gone another inning. He didn't have to improve his stock a whole lot. We liked him coming in."

Hunter's agent is shopping

The agent for outfielder/first baseman Brian Hunter spoke with Orioles assistant GM Kevin Malone yesterday about a minor-league contract for his client, recently released by Cincinnati. Hunter, 28, who played three years with Atlanta, hit .215 with one homer and nine RBIs in 40 games for the Reds last season.

Around the horn

Pitcher David Wells, hospitalized earlier this week after his heart rate accelerated dramatically, says he could pitch Sunday. "I'm fine," he said. . . . B. J.Surhoff played left field yesterday, his first appearance in the outfield this spring. Bobby Bonilla played third base for the second straight day.

Ups and downs

Highlights and lowlights from the Orioles' 4-3 win over the Florida Marlins yesterday: Ups Armando Benitez pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his second save this spring. Benitez has not allowed a hit in five innings of work.

Jeffrey Hammonds had one of his best Grapefruit League games, going 3-for-3 with two runs scored.

Roger McDowell picked up his second win by throwing 2 1/3 innings of three-hit, one-walk ball. McDowell has not allowed a run in 4 1/3 innings.

Downs Chris Hoiles went 0-4, and is 1-for-24 (.042) this spring. His arm looked weak trying to prevent Gary Sheffield from stealing second base. Hoiles also allowed a passed ball.

Reliever Mark Lee had a subpar outing, getting touched up for three hits, including a two-run homer to Lou Lucca, in the eighth inning.

Pub Date: 3/15/96

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