Key improves Smith to start Sunday

Oriole Notebook

Left-hander may throw next week

newcomer glad to get out of San Diego

June 11, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Though the Orioles continue to pursue a front-line starter, manager Ray Miller said he's feeling better about his pitching staff. Jimmy Key was able to exercise with 3-pound cuff weights for the second straight day, and an experienced arm has been added with Tuesday's acquisition of Pete Smith from the San Diego Padres for Double-A pitcher Eric Estes.

Smith arrived at the ballpark yesterday as the Orioles took the field for batting practice. He'll start Sunday in Toronto, a change of setting after spending parts of 11 seasons in the National League.

"I'm just looking at this as a great opportunity to pitch some innings and see what happens," he said.

Smith made eight starts for San Diego before going to the bullpen for two appearances. He was 3-2 with a 4.78 ERA, and unhappy about the demotion. "I think they were in kind of a bind where they had a bunch of starters," he said. "To be honest, I don't think I got a fair chance. A couple of shaky starts and I was out of the rotation."

Meanwhile, Key is encouraged by the progress he's made since receiving a cortisone shot in his inflamed left rotator cuff Monday in Birmingham, Ala. He felt good enough after Tuesday's session to repeat it yesterday.

"Everything's fine. Hopefully I'll start throwing sometime next week," said Key, adding that it's too early to put a date on his return.

Ponson stays put; Johns to 'pen

Miller said he'll keep rookie Sidney Ponson in the rotation and move left-hander Doug Johns to the bullpen for long and middle relief, rewarding Ponson's strong effort in Tuesday's loss to the Phillies. It also would leave the Orioles with five right-handed starters until Key's return.

Making his third start, Ponson gave up two runs and six hits in six innings, blanking Philadelphia over the last four.

"I saw three good major-league pitches and a great presence on the mound," Miller said. "I'm just trying to get the best five [in the rotation] and the best setup in the bullpen. We've gone 30 days without a long man."

Hoiles on the upswing

Signs are cropping up that Chris Hoiles is ready to go on an offensive tear. Now, it's just a matter of when.

It sure beats if.

Hoiles has hit in five of his past seven games after an 0-for-17 skid. He went 0-for-4 Tuesday, but the first two outs came on scorching liners to left field and shortstop. He had doubled and singled the previous night, his first extra-base hit and multi-hit game since April 21, when he last homered, and his first RBI since May 6.

The ball is starting to drop and the outs are getting louder. The average, however, still is an unsightly .196. Hoiles didn't play last night.

"Even though I didn't get any hits and the average goes down, the confidence goes up. Going up there right now, I feel I have a lot better chance of having a good at-bat. Before, without much confidence, it almost gets to the point where you don't want to be in there," said Hoiles, who didn't start last night because Lenny Webster usually catches Scott Erickson.

"My contact's been solid. If I keep hitting the ball like that, they're going to fall more."

Hoiles said he's feeling more comfortable, the result of regular playing time. He had been unable to play because of a badly bruised wrist, then found it difficult to get back into the lineup.

"Early on it was kind of an every other day thing for Lenny and I. We both got into a good groove because we knew when we were playing. I think that helps. It helps keep rhythm," he said.

"I guess I'm the type of guy who needs more at-bats. It always seems to be that way every year. I hit a certain number of at-bats and that's when I seem to take off."

Carter vs. the Phanatic

For someone whose every movement here was met with a resounding chorus of boos, Joe Carter sure seemed to have fun.

Before each game, he engaged in spirited battles with the Phillie Phanatic, tackling the rotund mascot and rolling on the turf. He even hopped aboard the Phanatic's four-wheeler, though he resisted taking it for a spin.

Carter outdid himself before the sixth inning Tuesday, grabbing a dummy dressed in an Orioles uniform that the Phanatic had brought onto the field and hitting him with it as pieces flew inevery direction. Carter then carried the dummy into the dugout with long, exaggerated strides.

"That dummy was destroyed," said Carter, who may never be forgiven here for winning the 1993 World Series with a home run off Phillies closer Mitch Williams in the ninth inning of Game 6. "You have to do something to break up the monotony."

When Carter arrived in the visitors' clubhouse yesterday, he found a stuffed Phanatic doll sitting on the stool in front of his locker. "I'll beat it up a little," he said.

Carter should be in a cheery mood. He is batting .300 (9-for-30) with two homers over his past 10 games.

Rolen plays it safe

Phillies third baseman Scott Rolen could be excused for peeking over his shoulder on occasion. Better to play it safe.

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