Coppinger promoted, to work from 'pen Ponson's blister problems play a part in the return of former 10-game winner

Orioles Notebook

September 07, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- The rehabilitation of star-crossed Rocky Coppinger reached a significant marker yesterday when the Orioles promoted him from Triple-A Rochester. Coppinger will officially be activated today and work from the bullpen before possibly receiving a start during the club's next homestand.

Coppinger, considered a marginal candidate for a summons last week, apparently will benefit from Sidney Ponson's lingering problems with a blister on his right middle finger. With Doug Johns and Doug Drabek scheduled to start two games against '' the Oakland Athletics tomorrow and Wednesday, manager Ray Miller found himself in desperate need of bullpen depth.

"I've been riding [Alan] Mills pretty hard. We had to get somebody in here to give him a break," Miller said.

An organizational riddle who won 10 games as a rookie in 1996 before experiencing health problems and a personality conflict with manager Davey Johnson last season, Coppinger, 24, underwent surgery on his right rotator cuff and elbow last August. He began the season at Double-A Bowie before being promoted to Rochester, where he attempted to remake himself into a more polished pitcher. Results, according to Miller, have been encouraging.

Coppinger pitched two innings in Buffalo on Saturday night. Previously he had gone 8-3 with a 3.48 ERA in 13 appearances for the Red Wings. Coppinger was also 2-2 with a 4.35 ERA at Bowie.

Coppinger credits Bowie pitching coach Bo McLaughlin with correcting his splayed mechanics and Rochester pitching coach Larry McCall with improving his much-scrutinized mental approach.

"It's the first time in two years I've felt really good about where I was," Coppinger said.

His recall might also represent a chance for fence-mending with Miller, who remains critical of the right-hander's conditioning and struggles with weight. Coppinger didn't help himself last season when he ripped Miller along with Johnson over the way he was handled. Eventually he conceded he was hiding injuries.

"[Rochester manager] Marv Foley said his velocity has been back the last few weeks, which is good. Apparently he's become more comfortable using his off-speed pitches and hitting his spots," Miller said. "Before I felt like I was a 2 1/2 -pitch pitcher," said Coppinger. "I had a changeup but I wasn't really confident using it in a tough situation. Now I am. That alone should give me a better chance."

The Orioles aren't through with their call-ups. They will promote right-hander Chris Fussell later this week and will meet today over whether to include Bowie standouts Ryan Minor, Calvin Pickering and Jerry Hairston.

Around the horn

The Orioles continue to attempt damage control with closer Armando Benitez. First base coach Carlos Bernhardt spoke with Benitez yesterday following the right-hander's meltdown during a 6-5 loss Saturday. Benitez surrendered a three-run, game-losing home run to Seattle Mariners center fielder Ken Griffey. The third anniversary of Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive game streak passed yesterday. Ripken played consecutive game No. 2,620 last night. He has played 490 games since eclipsing Gehrig's mark.

Same time last year

In the Orioles' 142nd game last year, they beat the Indians, 9-3. Here's where the Orioles stood:

Record .. .. .. ..Standing .. .. .. .. GA/GB

89-53 .. .. .. .. ..First .. .. .. .. .. .+8

Pub Date: 9/07/98

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