Coppinger stepping up in return Strong efforts for Bowie bode well for parent club, former 10-game O's winner

Minor-league notebook

June 01, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Two years ago, he was a 10-game winner and an apparent fixture in the Orioles' starting rotation. Last season, he was injured and unhappy, his fade coming gradually. This spring, he vanished.

Rocky Coppinger has been heading in the wrong direction since making his major-league debut June 11, 1996, at Tiger Stadium, reaching bottom in Sarasota, Fla., last month at the Orioles' extended spring training. Reassigned after pitching in two spring training games, he was shut down with a strained shoulder until being given several rehab starts at the minor-league camp.

Then began the climb. Back to Double-A Bowie, where he has started twice. Back, he hopes, into the Orioles' plans.

Coming off elbow and shoulder surgery in August, Coppinger has thrown a combined 11 innings for the Baysox, allowing two earned runs and five hits, with eight strikeouts.

He went six innings against New Haven on May 24, allowing no earned runs and two hits, walking none and striking out two in a 9-3 victory. He retired 15 in a row, but his fastball was clocked as low as 86 mph.

Then came Friday's turn against Harrisburg, when Coppinger was touched for two runs and three hits over five innings, striking out six. This time, his fastball reached 88-89 mph, closer to the 91-92 mph range he had in Baltimore.

Four of his strikeouts came on fastballs, one on his slider and one on his changeup. "Pretty good balance," farm director Syd Thrift said.

His rotation in need of some patching because of injuries, Orioles manager Ray Miller was asked about Coppinger last week. His club resorted to using reliever Bobby Munoz for the first three innings of Saturday's game against Texas, and placed an emergency call to journeyman Richie Lewis when Scott Kamieniecki joined two other starters on the disabled list. Left-hander Doug Johns, who pitched in Italy last year, also has been pulled from the bullpen.

The door isn't just cracked for a talent like Coppinger, it's swung wide-open.

"It's a matter of his velocity building up," Miller said. "It would be fun to see him step up."

The plan for now is to get Coppinger to Triple-A Rochester, where he can further test his mettle against veteran hitters. "I hope that's not too far away," Thrift said.

"Rocky has shown a lot of improvement. His command has been good and that's the key. When you've had arm problems, one of the first things that happens is you have trouble throwing the ball where you want to.

"His slider [Friday] was around 80 mph, which is close to where he was, and his change was outstanding. That shows his feel and touch are there. How far away is he from here? I don't know that, but all I can say is he's worked diligently, his weight is down and he's had a great attitude. We're all encouraged."

Rochester Red Wings

Third baseman Willis Otanez was named International League Batter of the Week for May 18-24, the second time he had won the award this season. Otanez batted .387 with four homers and 11 RBIs. After a slow start, the Red Wings were batting .302 (113-for-374) in their past 10 games going into the weekend. Outfielder Jesus Tavarez had a six-game hitting streak, batting .438 (10-for-23) during that time. Outfielder Danny Clyburn played in his first game Thursday, going 0-for-5 with two strikeouts. On Friday, he was 2-for-4 with two doubles. Yesterday, he was 0-for-5. Clyburn fractured his left foot in spring training and appeared in several rehab games in Sarasota before joining the Red Wings.

Bowie Baysox

The Baysox rallied for five runs in the bottom of the ninth Wednesday to defeat Akron, 11-10. Ryan Minor completed the comeback with a two-out, two-run single. Eugene Kingsale tripled in two runs and scored on a single by Calvin Pickering. In his past 19 games heading into the weekend, Minor was batting .315 (23-for-73) with six doubles, three homers and 13 RBIs. Pickering had a six-game hitting streak, batting .500 (11-for-22) during that span. With Bowie desperate for outfielders, Pickering played six games in left field last week and made a leaping catch to rob New Haven's Wonderful Monds of a hit. Left-hander Radhames Dykhoff, 23, was named Eastern League Pitcher of the Week Tuesday. A native of Aruba, Dykhoff pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings over two relief appearances, allowing just one hit and striking out 13. Right-hander Gabe Molina retired 16 straight batters over three appearances. Second baseman Jesse Garcia was 7-for-7 in stolen-base attempts heading into the weekend. Catcher Jim Foster had 14 RBIs over 14 games.

Frederick Keys

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