Webster not ready to leave DL

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Attempts to jog, bat fail, so backup catcher's return may wait until after trip

May 28, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The wait for Lenny Webster's injured right ankle to heal will extend far beyond today, when the Orioles' backup catcher becomes eligible to leave the disabled list.

Webster acknowledged yesterday that attempts to "push" the injury have not gone well and that he may not be ready to return until after the current nine-game road trip. The prospect of Webster's extended absence has caused general manager Frank Wren to launch a search for a more experienced backup than Tommy Davis, who has received one at-bat and three appearances in the field since being promoted from Triple-A Rochester on May 14.

"I guess I could come off [today] but that's not going to happen," Webster said. "I'm not physically ready. It's frustrating because I've sat longer than I ever have without playing, especially during the season. Mentally it's tough to sit and watch the games."

Webster attempted to jog and take batting practice Wednesday. He said it did not go well. He is still unable to crouch because of pain in the ankle. His batting practice was limited to six swings because of neck stiffness that developed after the team's cross-country flight the day before.

"The running aggravated it. It's kind of sore," Webster said yesterday. "I'll take it easy today and stay away from any exercises. [Wednesday] I couldn't even track the ball [when hitting] because I couldn't move my head."

Webster suffered the injury when twisting to avoid a high fastball from Dwight Gooden on May 12 in Cleveland. The ankle crumbled beneath him, straining a tendon near the Achilles.

Though Webster could swing a bat last weekend, his responsibilities as catcher preclude his return until the injury improves significantly. As of now, Webster is unable to run with purpose or pull himself from a crouch.

"Right now, I don't see any quick fixes," Webster said. "You want to be optimistic that it'll heal and I'll be able to play sometime soon, but being realistic, I don't think so."

Manager Ray Miller said he plans to give Davis his first major-league start tomorrow night in Oakland.

Davis hasn't batted since May 14, when he appeared against the Texas Rangers hours after his recall. Davis grounded out to end the game. He also threw out Lee Stevens stealing in the game.

Coppinger adapting to role

Rocky Coppinger continues to go through an adjustment from the starting rotation at Triple-A Rochester to the Orioles' bullpen. As has been the case before with Coppinger, the move has not been smooth.

"It's difficult. You're used to having a set day to pitch. Now you get here and you don't have any idea," said Coppinger, who allowed three home runs to the Rangers last Sunday in his only appearance since his May 21 recall.

"I know they think I'm better off not knowing when I'm going to pitch, but I disagree. There's a lot to staying ready as a reliever. I have a lot of admiration for those guys. I'm definitely still learning."

Coppinger has made only eight relief appearances in his professional career.

The former rookie 10-game winner has been caught the past two years in a cycle of strong starting performances at Rochester but troubled appearances after being promoted. He surrendered five runs in each of two starts with the Orioles before being optioned to Rochester on May 8. He regained his form, lowering his Triple-A ERA to 3.66.

Ponson's on the rise

Sidney Ponson's rapid development continues to rank among the most positive stories of the season. Ponson won for the fifth time in his last six starts on Wednesday and dropped his ERA to 4.20, lowest among the starting rotation.

Ponson has walked only six in his past five starts, pitched a combined 24 innings in his last three starts, and insists his confidence level has soared since an early-season conversation with HTS broadcaster and former pitching coach Mike Flanagan.

"It's way higher than it was early in the season," Ponson said. "I talked to Flanny and he said I was trying to be too perfect. I realized that was true. I was trying to throw to the corner. Now I'm just coming after them -- strike one, strike two, boom. By the third or fourth inning they see I'm coming after them and they start being aggressive. Then I can start mixing my pitches."

Ponson's confidence has bordered on swagger at times, a point made by Miller after his last loss May 11 in Cleveland. Wednesday night Ponson was again burned when he challenged hot-hitting Angels center fielder Garret Anderson with a fastball. Anderson had homered twice Tuesday night and was to be treated carefully.

"When you're driving a nail and you keep hitting your thumb, then move your hand. That's the veteran part of it," Miller said. "I think when you're young and have good stuff, you're extremely competitive with everyone. When you get a little bit older and you're pitching a pretty good game and a guy is seeing the ball pretty well, you're not going to let him beat you."

Calling all campers

Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks is again holding two three-week day camps for youth players this summer at McDonogh School in Baltimore County. He will help supervise major-league instruction during sessions from June 21 to July 9 and July 11 to July 30. The camp is open to players age 7-16.

Hendricks will be assisted by the McDonogh baseball staff and offers use of pitching machines, seven diamonds and indoor facilities. Those seeking big-league treatment may also avail themselves of swimming and video replay. Sorry, major-league meal money is not included.

Pub Date: 5/28/99

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