Meeting smooths over Coppinger matter Pitcher drops trade threat 1 day after criticizing club over assignment to Bowie

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

March 12, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Orioles and pitcher Rocky Coppinger apparently have patched any hard feelings caused by the right-hander's assignment to Double-A Bowie on Tuesday.

Coppinger, irritated by being optioned after receiving only two spring outings covering three innings, met with general manager Pat Gillick and assistant general manager Kevin Malone after threatening to have his agent, Alan Hendricks, ask the club for a trade. Malone said that threat was never delivered.

"That was never mentioned. It was a very pleasant, mature conversation," Malone said.

Manager Ray Miller had encouraged Coppinger to speak with Gillick after he complained about receiving insufficient opportunity to show that he was healthy after undergoing arthroscopic shoulder and elbow surgery last August.

"I love the kid," Miller said. "I want nothing more than to have him up here pitching again. But he's got to get healthy first."

In his last appearance, a troubled one-inning effort on Monday, Coppinger topped out at 84 mph against the Minnesota Twins. He started a second inning but failed to get an out while attempting to "blow it out," Miller said. He was among six players sent to minor-league camp on Monday and was scheduled to report to Sarasota yesterday.

Gillick and Malone reinforced Miller's message that Coppinger, who turns 24 next week, remains part of the Orioles' long-range plan. They said concern over cold weather was the reason he was optioned to Double-A Bowie rather than Triple-A Rochester. "He has to get healthy first," Malone said. "We like Rocky. He's very much part of our plans. But he's hurt. And before he can progress he has to get healthy."

Coppinger was 10-6 as a rookie in 1996, but only 1-1 with a 6.30 ERA in five appearances last year before the surgery.

Mo grousing

Boston Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn ripped into the organization before yesterday's game after a story in the Boston Herald reported that the club is tying negotiations for a contract extension to his willingness to undergo evaluation for alcohol dependency. During a 45-minute tirade, Vaughn accused the club of trying to rid itself of outspoken players and proclaimed his contract talks in trouble.

Referring to defection of players such as Roger Clemens, Vaughn said: "They were all guys who didn't conform to policy. They weren't controlled. They want to control what you say, what you do, what you eat. I want to play hard and help the team win."

Vaughn, 30, said the club's stance was the first volley of an effort to blame him if he leaves via trade or free agency. "Watch out for the smear campaign. It'll be coming soon to a theater near you," he said. "And it will be a double feature, gentlemen. Next, I'll be doing drugs. Then I'll be selling drugs. They're going to paint a whole pattern of negativity. That's typical of the way things go around here."

Vaughn was scratched from yesterday's lineup because of an infection in his right eye.

A pending free agent and former Most Valuable Player who elicited trade inquiries from the Orioles last off-season, Vaughn has rejected the Red Sox's three-year, $27 million offer. He wants a five-year deal.

Last season, Vaughn hit .315 with 35 homers and 96 RBIs.

However, even given yesterday's outburst, Vaughn still won't rule out a possible return to the club.

Asked what chance he has of being back in Boston in 1999, Vaughn said, "It doesn't exist right now. But I really don't know. I can't rule it out. I'd be a fool."

Vaughn was involved in a Jan. 9 single-vehicle accident in which his truck flipped several times. He was found not guilty of driving under the influence and refers to the club's insistence of alcohol evaluation as "a smoke screen."

After venting, Vaughn roamed among the Orioles during stretching. He has told associates that he would love to play in Baltimore, a feeling apparently shared by the Orioles' front office.

Red Sox's Martinez strong

Red Sox starter Pedro Martinez gave a command five-inning performance against a diluted Orioles lineup at City of Palms Stadium as the Red Sox won, 3-0. The Red Sox broke a scoreless tie in the seventh inning against reliever Terry Mathews when reserve outfielder Jimmy Hurst singled home Donnie Sadler.

Second baseman Roberto Alomar singled twice, once right-handed and once left-handed. Batting right-handed in the eighth inning against Ron Mahay, Alomar pushed a single to shallow right field. Just as importantly, he swung and missed without feeling pain.

"Everything is going good. There have been no problems," he said. "I'm just working on hitting the ball where it's pitched. They pitch me outside, I go to right field. I'm not thinking about anything else."

Surhoff close to returning

Miller expects left fielder B. J. Surhoff to return to the lineup tomorrow in Vero Beach against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Surhoff hasn't played since stretching a ligament in his right ring finger on a dive to first base in the Feb. 28 exhibition opener.

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