Coppinger: No sneaking this time Called-up pitcher was dragged from O's in spring

Sidelight

June 08, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

When Rocky Coppinger was demoted to Triple-A in spring training, he left somewhat reluctantly.

All of the players assigned to the minors with Coppinger were supposed to go into the Orioles clubhouse, but Coppinger sneaked back onto the field to savor a few more minutes with the big-leaguers. Another minute or two in the limelight.

He doesn't have to sneak around anymore.

Coppinger, 22, was recalled from Triple-A Rochester on Thursday and was in uniform at Camden Yards yesterday. Manager Davey Johnson said that with the Orioles in need of right-handers in the bullpen, Coppinger will be available to pitch an inning or two in relief today.

Johnson also said Coppinger is the most likely candidate to fill Jimmy Haynes' spot in the rotation on Tuesday in Detroit.

"I don't care what I have to do," Coppinger said. "I'm here now. I don't care if they ask me to play third base. I'd like to start, but I think it might be good for me to get a few innings in as a reliever, so there's not so much pressure."

Coppinger knew he wasn't ready for Baltimore in March. He said he feels differently now.

Johnson told the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder that he would not hesitate to call him up at some point this year, as long as he continued to progress at Rochester.

Coppinger obliged, striking out 10 or more batters in three of his past five starts with the Red Wings, while displaying impeccable control.

"He's a welcome addition," Johnson said. "Any guy who throws as hard as he does for strikes, with three pitches, is ready for the big leagues. It doesn't matter if you're a 19-year-old Dwight Gooden, or a 22-year-old Rocky Coppinger."

The 19th-round choice in the June 1993 draft is the pride of the Orioles' farm system. In 1995 Coppinger breezed through all levels, going 16-3 with a 1.97 ERA in stints at Single-A Frederick, Double-A Bowie and Rochester. He struck out 172 and walked just 84.

But he struggled early this season. "I started slow in Triple-A because I think I was pressing too much," Coppinger said. "I was trying to get up here too fast. When I finally settled down, look what happened. Here I am. I got hot this last month and that's all it took. I'm just going to take that groove I had in Rochester and bring it here."

Coppinger said he realized he was pressing when he lasted just 1 2/3 innings in an early start for Rochester. Since then he has calmed down and returned to being just a pitcher, no longer trying to strike out the side each inning.

Orioles director of player development Syd Thrift said Coppinger has continued to improve. He is not afraid to offset his fastball with a slider or changeup, even when deep in the count, Thrift said. He said Coppinger has a great command of his pitches and he likes to challenge opposing batters.

"He doesn't walk a soul," Thrift said. "He has great control for a young pitcher."

The Orioles don't seem too concerned about Coppinger's age or inexperience, either. The organization contends his mental composure is as strong as his physical attributes. The burden of being the Orioles' top prospect isn't likely to keep him up at night.

"Rocky's a pretty mature kid," pitching coach Pat Dobson said. "He's very aggressive. We don't think he'll have any problems handling anything we ask of him. He's ready."

Pub Date: 6/08/96

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