Young lefty's fastball is turning heads Riley impresses Orioles, racks up K's at Delmarva

Minor-league notebook

July 27, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

As the Orioles took batting practice before a game at Camden Yards in early June, manager Ray Miller couldn't take his eyes off the pitcher throwing in the bullpen. It was Matt Riley, last year's third-round draft pick who had signed the previous week. And it was a sight to behold.

"Now that's what a prospect is supposed to look like," he told John Maroon, the club's director of public relations. Miller repeated the line to reporters gathered near the dugout, a wide grin spreading across his face.

Hitters in the South Atlantic League certainly have seen enough since Riley, 18, joined Single-A Delmarva -- the fastball that reaches 94 mph, the exploding overhand curve, the endless parade of strikeout victims.

Ask a club official who's the top left-handed pitching prospect in the organization, and Riley's name will come up every time.

"It's like your best Christmas present," Miller said.

Riley is 2-3 with a 1.36 ERA. He has walked 22 and struck out 77 in 46 innings. Riley took a loss July 18 despite allowing just one run in five innings.

He'll most likely pitch in the Maryland Fall League this year, then begin next season at Single-A Frederick before tearing through the system. Farm director Syd Thrift projects him to arrive in the ++ majors within two years, eventually settling into the No. 2 or 3 slot in the rotation.

"I think that's a realistic timetable," said Delmarva pitching coach Dave Schmidt, a former big-league hurler whose career included a stop in Baltimore.

"He's got a tremendously strong arm, he works hard and he has a good attitude. He has overpowering stuff. His fastball has good movement and his curveball is very sharp. He has the kind of stuff that can cause a lot of problems. He's a top prospect, no doubt about it. Arms like that don't come around a lot.

"He's been fun to work with, too. He's young and he says and does some young things, but that's all from being 18 years old. That hasn't been a problem at all."

There's still much to learn, though. Riley is working to refine his changeup, a necessary third pitch if he's to start at a higher level. Schmidt also would like to see him put hitters away earlier in the count.

"His fastball and curve are always going to be his bread and butter, but he's made some progress with the changeup. It's not as good as the others, but there are some places where he can throw it. It wasn't a pitch he could rely on, but the other day he got a couple outs with it. We know there's going to come a day when his curveball just isn't there. We're thinking here's another pitch he can go to."

Riley wants another chance to throw in the Orioles' bullpen. Only next time, it might be for more than just for show.

"That was a lot of fun," he said. "All the players could hear me popping the glove. They were saying, 'Throw it harder; throw it harder.' It was pretty exciting."

Triple-A Rochester

The Red Wings are doing a pretty decent impression of the Orioles, winning seven of eight games heading into the weekend after losing 11 of 15. They were batting .358 over a five-game stretch but remained in last place in the International League's North Division. The 20 runs last Monday were the most scored by a Rochester team since 1971. Chris Fussell's promotion to Rochester from Double-A Bowie last Monday wasn't the only good news he received last week. He also found out he'd be starting for the Orioles in today's Hall of Fame game in Cooperstown, N.Y. Left-hander Terry Burrows was named the International League's Pitcher of the Week. He didn't allow a run in 10 1/3 innings covering three appearances. After going 0-8 and getting within six defeats of the club record for worst start, Jim Converse won his first game for the Red Wings. Catcher Jim Foster was promoted from Bowie on July 18. He got a late start because of a sore elbow that forced the club to shut him down in spring training. Everett Stull pitched two scoreless innings in relief after going 0-3 with a 13.29 ERA in seven starts.

Double-A Bowie

The Baysox had lost nine of 12 heading into the weekend, posting a 6.34 ERA during that time. Bowie matched a franchise record with seven homers in a 13-2 drubbing of New Haven on July 19. When infielder Jerry Hairston was united with catcher Ryan Luzinski at Bowie, it conjured up some memories. Their fathers, Jerry Hairston and Greg Luzinski, were teammates with the Chicago White Sox. Hairston hit two homers in his third game with the Baysox. Luzinski went 7-for-8 with three homers in back-to-back games. Switch-hitting catcher Melvin Rosario was sent down from Rochester on July 18 after hitting .248 with three homers and 10 RBIs. First baseman Calvin Pickering went 9-for-12 with seven RBIs in three games vs. Akron. Ryan Minor took a seven-game hitting streak into the weekend. He was chosen best defensive third baseman and best infield arm in the Eastern League by Baseball America.

Single-A Frederick

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