Coppinger angry over demotion Not given 'real chance,' pitcher pushes for trade

March 11, 1998|By Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko | Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The fractious relationship between the Orioles and pitcher Rocky Coppinger suffered further strain yesterday when the club optioned the right-hander to Double-A Bowie, prompting Coppinger to press the team for a trade.

"I'm disappointed to say the least," said Coppinger, 23, who quickly left the clubhouse after being notified by manager Ray Miller. "You can take what they say for what it's worth. Sometimes you believe them; sometimes you don't."

Coppinger said he didn't expect to begin the season in Baltimore since he is coming off a troubled 1997 season that included surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow and repair a partial tear in his right shoulder. However, he expressed disgust over being dropped after appearing in two spring games. He was optioned less than 24 hours after yielding three RTC runs and four walks in one inning against Minnesota.

"All along they said I was in their plans. They made me believe that. I knew I would probably not make the team this spring, but two outings is not what I consider a real chance. To me, that says a lot more about where I stand in the organization," said Coppinger, who followed his 10-6 1996 rookie season with a 1-1 record and 6.30 ERA in five appearances last year.

Miller, who assured Coppinger that he does factor in the organization's plans, cited the pitcher's rehabilitation and ongoing struggle with weight as well as a need to give innings to the team's projected staff for yesterday's call.

"I told him nobody should be talking about his weight but obviously it is a factor, something he's going to have to deal with," Miller said. "It's a business. And like any other business, if you have the chit in your pocket and it gets you there, you have to spend it wisely. You've got to go out and put up some numbers. That's the name of the business."

Before his rough outing against the Twins, threw two hitless innings without a walk Coppinger against St. Louis on March 4.

"I told the guys whoever walks in here with the best numbers will get a chance to play, and that holds true during the year. If I need somebody, I'm going to look down, and if Rocky Coppinger's mowing everybody down and I need a starter, he'd be the guy I'd get. If he's not, I'll get somebody else."

Coppinger devoted himself this winter to rehabilitating his attitude as well as his arm during the off-season. He also attended a weight loss program at Duke University to shed about 20 pounds.

But yesterday's move caused him to wonder if a confrontation last year with then-manager Davey Johnson and Miller might have been weighed in the decision to reassign him along with pitchers Julio Moreno (Triple-A Rochester), Billy Percibal (Bowie), Vince Horsman (unspecified), Gabe Molina (unspecified) and infielder Carlos Casimiro (Single-A Frederick).

"I wanted Rocky to know this is not personal," Miller said. "I told him, 'There's nothing in the world I'd love more than for you to pitch in the big leagues. There's no personalities involved. This is the intelligent, right thing for you to do. You've come 100 miles at a fast pace and I really think we need to slow that pace down.' "

Coppinger will accompany the club to Fort Myers today, then travel up the coast to the Orioles' minor-league facility in Sarasota.

But he plans to have his agent, Alan Hendricks, ask general manager Pat Gillick to seek a trade.

"If it's not going to work out here, I need to go someplace where I can get my career back on track. That's all," said Coppinger.

Pub Date: 3/11/98

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