Guzman's education continues

Catcher-turned-pitcher may move from bullpen to Delmarva rotation

Minor-league Baseball

May 17, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Until this season, he was known more for being "the other" Juan Guzman, a weak-hitting catcher who had been converted to pitcher, the same position as his namesake with the Orioles. He seemed more novelty than prospect after two rookie-league seasons, but that perception is changing.

Guzman, 21, has been one of the few pleasant developments within Single-A Delmarva's season. Heading into the weekend, he was 2-0 with a 3.60 ERA in 10 relief appearances, saving three games and inching closer to a spot in the Shorebirds' rotation.

"We've been trying to build his pitch count to around 65," said manager Butch Davis, in his first season at Delmarva after working with Guzman two years ago in the Gulf Coast League.

"We're starting him slow because it's his first full year pitching. We're building his arm up."

His stock is going in the same direction. Guzman, a native of San Pedro de Macoris who was signed by Carlos Bernhardt, hit .149 in 15 games two years ago with the Gulf Coast Orioles. He caught eight games the next season at Bluefield before being pointed to the mound, a switch also made a few years earlier with former Oriole Nerio Rodriguez.

The results came faster than anticipated. Guzman didn't allow an earned run in his first eight games and finished 1-2 with a 1.42 ERA, seven walks and 26 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings.

Armed with a fastball that reaches 94 mph, which complements a decent slider and change-up, Guzman has continued to show improvement while making a name for himself in the organization.

"He's throwing very well," Davis said. "He's just got to be able to use his breaking ball more, and he's not always as consistent as we'd like. But that's to be expected with young players."

Though Guzman doesn't speak English, Davis can get his points across with the help of field coach Bobby Rodriguez.

"Juan understands English and my coach is bilingual, so there's been no problem whatsoever," Davis said.

Triple-A Rochester

In his first start after being sent down by the Orioles, Rocky Coppinger combined with reliever Rafael Pina on a 2-0 shutout of Richmond. Coppinger, the subject of trade rumors, allowed three hits in 7 2/3 innings and struck out eight. Left-hander Terry Burrows entered the weekend leading the International League with 51 1/3 innings pitched and was second with a 1.93 ERA and 45 strikeouts. Left-handers were hitting 1-for-31 against him. But shallow run support had his record at 1-3 in seven starts. Left-hander Pete Hartmann didn't allow a run in his first four appearances after joining the Red Wings. He had given up one run in 13 1/3 innings with Double-A Bowie to start the season. Another left-hander, Radhames Dykhoff, who had a brief stay with the Orioles last season, has been effective out of the bullpen with a 2.65 ERA. Opponents were batting .161 (9-for-56) against him heading into the weekend. Right-hander Jason Johnson, who could be on the verge of joining the Orioles' rotation, went into the weekend with a 4-2 record, 3.43 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings. Catcher Julio Vinas homered twice, doubled and knocked in four runs against Richmond's Bruce Chen, who was leading the league in ERA and almost made Atlanta's rotation out of spring training.

Double-A Bowie

The Baysox dropped out of first place in the Eastern League's Southern Division for only the second time since April 20 after losing six of nine going into the weekend. Outfielder Wady Almonte continued to lead Bowie in hitting (.280), doubles (eight), home runs (six), RBIs (24) and slugging percentage (.560). He hit safely in 18 of 20 games, batting .338 (26-for-77) with eight doubles, a triple, five homers and 20 RBIs. Left-hander Carlos Medina was promoted to Bowie after going 4-0 with a 1.72 ERA in five starts at Single-A Frederick. Medina lost his first start with the Baysox, allowing five runs in 5 1/3 innings at Erie. First baseman Tom Hage, in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak, hit a game-winning, two-run homer Wednesday at Erie. Catcher Tim DeCinces had started 25 consecutive games until being replaced behind the plate by Mike Lopez-Cao on Thursday.

Single-A Frederick

The Keys entered the weekend leading the Carolina League with a .269 average and 44 stolen bases. Their pitching staff was third with a 3.60 ERA. Battling inconsistency in his first season with the Keys, left-hander Matt Riley turned in two dominating starts last week. The Orioles' top prospect allowed one earned run and three hits in a combined 15 2/3 innings, striking out 21. He went into the weekend with a league-leading 44 2/3 innings and was second with 53 strikeouts. Brian Murphy continued to lead the Keys with a 1.72 ERA in 11 relief appearances. Outfielder Luis Matos, regarded as one of the Orioles' top prospects, had a 12-game hitting streak broken last week but hit safely in 18 of 21 games, batting .348 (31-for-89) with four homers and 12 RBIs. He was eighth in the league with a .308 average, and third with 12 steals.

Single-A Delmarva

The Shorebirds still haven't taken off. They went into the weekend 13-22 and tied for last place in the Northern Division of the South Atlantic League, 10 games behind Hagerstown. Unlike his team, outfielder Ntema Ndungidi has shown signs of recovering from a slow start. He took a nine-game hitting streak into the weekend, batting .375 (12-for-32) during that time. Ndungidi hit .082 in April but was batting .318 this month. He also was second on the team in stolen bases with nine, behind shortstop Maikell Diaz (11). Diaz was hitting .392 (20-for-51) over a 12-game stretch and had reached base from the leadoff spot in eight consecutive games and 20 of 22.

Pub Date: 5/17/99

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