Ex-catcher Rodriguez throws out first win Rookie provides big lift, holding Tigers to run in 3 1/3


September 21, 1997|By Joe Strauss and Alan Goldstein | Joe Strauss and Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

Yesterday was big for the Orioles for many reasons, not the least of which was a solid performance by rookie right-hander Nerio Rodriguez, a one-time catcher who pitched 3 1/3 innings to gain his first major-league win.

Rodriguez (1-1) entered the game behind troubled starter Rick Krivda with one out in the fifth inning after the Tigers had whittled a nine-run lead to 10-5. Showing confidence in his off-speed pitches, Rodriguez allowed four hits and one earned run, striking out three.

In his locker, Rodriguez had the ball he used to strike out Frank Catalanotto for his final out. "I'm real happy. Today I threw better. I think a lot of my pitches were very good, especially my changeup," said Rodriguez, who earned the win in his 12th major-league appearance.

Rodriguez's effort did not escape notice throughout the clubhouse. Catcher Chris Hoiles was duly impressed by his command, commenting, "He's got a chance."

Concerned about possibly making another run through his bullpen, manager Davey Johnson instead could wait until two outs into the eighth inning to import Terry Mathews with a 12-6 lead. "That was big for him: his first big-league win. He deserved it," said Johnson.

That Rodriguez's first major-league win came against Buddy Bell's Detroit Tigers was somehow fitting. Bell had served as a minor-league coordinator with the Chicago White Sox when Rodriguez was a catcher within their system. The Orioles chose him in the 1994 Rule 5 draft, paying $50,000 for an arm they converted to the mound after only 61 games.

"We kept him as a catcher. That shows how smart we were," Bell said. "He swung the bat pretty good and he was a good catcher. Looks like he made the right move, though."

Spring training deal struck

The Orioles have agreed in principle to three one-year options to retain their spring training facility in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The agreement, which has yet to be approved by the Fort Lauderdale City Council, would allow the Orioles to go to a new site without penalty.

The club is interested in obtaining a new facility and has had preliminary discussions with several other Florida cities, including West Palm Beach. Owner Peter Angelos has expressed a desire to remain on the Atlantic coast.

The Orioles have long been dissatisfied with their antiquated arrangement in Fort Lauderdale, where the major- and minor-league facilities are separate.

As part of the proposed arrangement, small capital improvements will be made around Municipal Stadium.

Johnson on Cal

Johnson has remained adamant that Cal Ripken will work on his own schedule, regardless of suggestions that he is playing hurt. However, yesterday Johnson pulled Ripken before the seventh inning with the Orioles ahead 12-5.

Ripken, the only starter without a hit, endured an 0-for-4 day that dropped his average to .273. In his last 10 games, Ripken is 3-for-37.

"He's been in better streaks, but he's a streaky hitter," said Johnson, adding, "You [media] guys have [irritated] him so much, he'll probably hit .400 the next month. It is real important for him to do the things he's capable of in the playoffs. He plays good in Seattle."

With the Orioles able to clinch by the end of this homestand, Johnson can ponder whether to use Ripken as a designated hitter during an upcoming six-game road swing. Johnson even made a joking reference to Ripken's ability to motivate himself through anger.

"Maybe I'll move him to left field," Johnson quipped. "The last time I moved him he hit three homers in Seattle [May 28, 1996]. If you guys don't [irritate] him enough, then maybe I'll try."

Something to rail about

If the Orioles and Yankees survive the opening-round playoff series, Phil Itzoe, who has been the Orioles' traveling secretary since 1968, said it is likely the club would travel by train to the games in New York.

"We'd ask Amtrak to add a couple of rail cars for the team's use," Itzoe said. "We've done it before. It's really more relaxing than flying, plus it's a lot cheaper."

Bearish on Hammonds

Jeffrey Hammonds was again absent from the starting lineup yesterday. A lingering Achilles' problem leaves him sore after playing. Johnson has instituted a revolving door in right field that contains Hammonds, Geronimo Berroa and Eric Davis.

Said Johnson of Hammonds: "I don't think his leg's going to be all right until after this year."

Johnson admitted he hesitated playing Hammonds on Friday night when he pinch-hit for Mike Bordick in the ninth inning, walked, and eventually scored the first of three runs in a game-tying rally against the Tigers.

Hammonds' injuries have placed a drag on his numbers. He is hitting .200 since July 22 compared to .300 before. He has four home runs in 122 at-bats since July 19 compared with 16 homers in 261 at-bats before.

Left out

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