Coppinger on dominating trail Starter strikes out four, stays unscored upon

Orioles notebook

March 10, 1997|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. -- As his innings increase, so does Rocky Coppinger's dominance.

Making his third start yesterday, Coppinger allowed just one hit over three shutout innings in the Orioles' 8-3 victory over the Montreal Expos at Municipal Stadium. He struck out four and hit a batter on a day when he had trouble getting loose.

Coppinger hasn't given up an earned run in seven innings. He's surrendered five hits and walked one.

This was Coppinger's longest outing. "I'll feel it [today]. Three is a big jump from two. I'll see how the arm reacts," he said.

As for his impressive numbers thus far, Coppinger said, "I feel like I'm still here trying to make the team. Some people say, 'Oh, don't worry about it,' but I don't want to lose my job."

He's gaining an impressive curveball, using it early in the count. "How many curveballs did he throw last year? Zip, if I remember," said manager Davey Johnson.

"He's a smart kid and he's learning more about what he can do as a pitcher."

Reboulet gains an edge

Johnson doesn't like to put too much stock in early spring training performances, but with Kelly Gruber hitless and shelved by a hamstring injury and Jeff Reboulet's average at .318, the former Minnesota Twins utility player is looking like a stronger possibility to be the starting second baseman on Opening Day.

"We've got a lot of time to go, but he's been impressive," Johnson said. "He's done everything. He's aggressive with the bat, he's a grinder, he's going to give you all he's got."

Reboulet gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead with a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning. He also walked and bounced out.

And then there's Manny Alexander, the subject of continuing trade rumors. He singled in his first at-bat and scored on a long double by Scott McClain, giving the Orioles an 8-1 lead in the sixth. He also showed tremendous range in the eighth, going deep in the hole to backhand a ground ball from former Oriole Sherman Obando and throw to second for the force.

Alexander, whose seventh-inning home run Saturday gave the Orioles an 8-7 win over the Expos, is batting .520.

Taking a turn at bat

Coppinger slipped on his batting helmet yesterday, grabbed some wood and went into the batting cage. His goals weren't particularly lofty. Just lay down a bunt.

A few balls went where he wanted, others were popped up or dribbled foul. With interleague play becoming a reality this summer, Orioles pitchers will be expected to perform such a task.

When Johnson managed the New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds, he would tell his pitchers: "Show me you can bunt and you may be around for another inning. Show me you can't bunt and I've got to get a guy over, I'm not going to let you hit. You're gone."

Coppinger was swinging away in his only at-bat yesterday. After slicing a wicked line drive into the first row of seats beside the Orioles dugout, he struck out on a high fastball from Expos starter Matt Wagner.

"After I fouled that ball off, I wanted out of there after that. I hit it right out of the catcher's glove," he said.

Interleague play also will have American League managers brushing up on their double-switches and other staples of the senior circuit.

"After you've been over there for a while, it's second nature to the managers," Johnson said. "Here, you kind of bone up on it, but it's still a disadvantage to the American League manager. It's a whole new thought process.

"The truth is, managers tend to get a little lazier in the American League because there's no critical time in the game when you take the pitcher out because you're just reading him and it doesn't affect the score or anything.

"You do less over here, especially if you have a lot of guys who hit the ball out of the ballpark and they're not real fast."

Trade rumors abound

Johnson doesn't just see the club's improved pitching depth over last season. He's listening to it, too.

With so many players vying for so few positions, they've been paying closer attention to trade rumors, like the ones involving Philadelphia Phillies starter Curt Schilling, a former Oriole.

"Last year, you didn't hear a lot of, 'Where am I going? Where are you going?' " Johnson said. Then, he broke into a grin.

"I had one player ask me, 'Is there anything to the rumor I'm in the Schilling deal?' I said, 'No, you're too old and you haven't gotten anybody out this spring.' "

Around the horn

General manager Pat Gillick said he's been given no indication that Japanese pitcher Hideki Irabu, whose rights are held by the San Diego Padres, would agree to play for the Orioles. Pinch-hitting in the fourth inning, Danny Clyburn drove home Jeffrey Hammonds with a single to left, giving the Orioles a 2-0 lead. His double in the sixth scored third baseman Willis Otanez, who had doubled in two runs. Kelly Gruber (hamstring) and Jerome Walton (abdominal strain) remain day-to-day.

Spring break

What the Orioles did yesterday: Visited an old friend, the Montreal Expos, whom they've played four times this spring. Right-hander Rocky Coppinger threw three shutout innings and the Orioles won their seventh game in the past eight, 8-3. The only blemish during this stretch is a 3-3 tie with the New York Mets on March 5. They haven't lost since March 1 against the Florida Marlins in Viera.

What the Orioles will do today: Play another familiar foe, the Atlanta Braves, whom the Orioles have beaten in two earlier games. Right-hander Scott Kamieniecki (0-0, 2.25 ERA) will make his first spring start, and third appearance. Also scheduled to throw are Rick Krivda, Shawn Boskie and Brian Williams. The Braves will start left-hander Denny Neagle (Arundel High).

You know it's spring training when: The opposing pitcher is a right-hander and Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles bats cleanup. The right-handed-hitting Hoiles won't be holding down the fourth spot often in this lineup.

Pub Date: 3/10/97

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