More rain, so Johnson juggles pitchers again Coppinger to replace Boskie as O's starter

April 20, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- The Orioles' starting rotation completed its return to normalcy yesterday when a strong bullpen session merited Rocky Coppinger being installed as No. 4 starter. To make room, manager Davey Johnson assigned Shawn Boskie to bullpen duty.

The move coincided with the water-weary Orioles being rained out for a second consecutive day against the Boston Red Sox and for the fourth time in 10 days.

Forced once more to manipulate his rotation, Johnson bumped Jimmy Key to this afternoon's start. Scott Erickson will follow tomorrow, Mike Mussina on Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox, Coppinger on Wednesday and Scott Kamieniecki on Thursday against Boston. Only once this season has a starter appeared on four days' rest.

Johnson ordered Coppinger to the

disabled list March 31 after noticing a drop in velocity in the right-hander's power pitches. Eventually, he noticed Coppinger's reluctance to use them. Yesterday, Coppinger showed enough to pitching coach Ray Miller.

"I didn't think he was popping his fastball enough. I thought we should check him," Johnson said after yesterday's postponement. "It's one thing to work on your changeup and your curveball. It's another thing not to throw your fastball and slider. When you're not really popping your fastball and slider, which was his bread-and-butter pitches, I was concerned."

After initially voicing displeasure over the move, Coppinger conceded yesterday, "I was mad at first, but maybe for longevity it's the best thing that could happen. I know mentally it was good thing to have happen."

Johnson said he didn't believe Wednesday's four-inning outing in Chicago was "a true indicator" but thought that his approach had improved enough to warrant consideration to start.

Coppinger threw 49 pitches in his relief appearance and was satisfied with the movement on his fastball. According to Johnson, Coppinger will not be restricted by a short pitch count Wednesday. "I'll just go more on how he's throwing. He really didn't miss anything other than that week. He had the whole spring. It wasn't like he was out three weeks without throwing," Johnson said.

Boskie held his tongue, though yesterday's exile came under difficult circumstances. After being designated as No. 4 starter in Coppinger's absence, he pitched only twice, once on 10 days' rest.

"I'm disappointed," Boskie said, conceding that he had expected the move. "I'm not disappointed in the decision. I understand that part. I'm disappointed in the way I've pitched. It hasn't been very good."

The move represents a major success for Kamieniecki. After joining the rotation only because of setbacks to Coppinger and Mussina, Kamieniecki has pitched ably in three starts, winning his first game in nearly a year. He helped himself Tuesday, when he escaped a bases-loaded, none-out jam with only one run and went on to earn a 3-1 decision. Then came Boskie's outing Thursday, when he surrendered nine runs and walked four in four innings.

"You keep working. It's a long season. We've still got 5 1/2 months," Kamieniecki said.

As for the rainout, Johnson offered no complaints. Johnson was concerned enough about the sloppy field that he had decided to bench any player with even a minor leg or groin injury. When the call was made at 11: 30 a.m., Johnson voiced relief.

"I know it was a tough decision but I think it was a good decision," Johnson said. "I know [Red Sox manager] Jimy [Williams] wants to play and I want to play, but not at the expense of a player getting hurt. And this is the kind of conditions -- loose footing, wind chill below freezing -- you're just asking for it."

Orioles today

Opponent: Boston Red Sox

Site: Fenway Park, Boston

Time: 1: 05 p.m.

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Jimmy Key (2-0, 1.29) vs. Red Sox's Tom Gordon (1-1, 2.75)

Pub Date: 4/20/97

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