Coppinger worked up over lack of work


`Can't just sit in bullpen,' he says, frustrated by just 3 outings since call-up

June 13, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Orioles manager Ray Miller often has stated a preference for allowing certain young pitchers more time to develop in the minors. Let them work on a regular basis rather than coming to the majors and sitting for extended periods, when fewer lessons are learned. That's the main reason reliever Gabe Molina was returned to Triple-A Rochester last month despite some impressive outings.

So what is happening in the case of Rocky Coppinger, 25, who has made only three appearances since his second promotion from Rochester on May 22, the same day Molina went down?

Moved to the bullpen after making two starts in his first stretch with the Orioles, Coppinger has totaled only six innings and speculated yesterday that he won't finish the season with the club.

"I think something will be done here pretty soon," he said. "I'm not pitching up here. I can't just sit in the bullpen. I'm still young."

Asked about the possibility of being traded, Coppinger said, "That's something that needs to be discussed between myself and my agent [Alan Hendricks]. I'd love to stay here. It's a great place. But I'm a starting pitcher and it's been hard for me to get used to relieving. I just want the opportunity to pitch. If I don't fit in, I don't fit in."

General manager Frank Wren said yesterday that he's had discussions with Miller concerning Coppinger's inactivity. He also said he's not looking to deal Coppinger, who last pitched June 6 against Philadelphia.

"I still see a good arm. He's going to get it figured out and I'd rather he worked it out with us," Wren said before the Orioles' 5-0 victory over Atlanta.

"It's a concern that he's not getting a lot of work. We want him to continue to develop. We want him to continue to improve on his abilities."

Coppinger expected an adjustment period after spending most of his professional career as a starter -- he won 10 games as a rookie in 1996 -- but he also figured to be busier.

"It's not fun," he said. "You come to the park every day not knowing if you're going to pitch. In my case, you're probably not going to pitch unless we score a lot of runs. It's kind of hard."

From Miller's perspective, it would be easier for Coppinger if he was getting results. After giving up five runs in each of his two starts, he has allowed six along with 10 hits in relief.

"When you're young and you're not going that well, I don't think a manager can just say, `I'm going to put him in a game,' " Miller said. "What happens is, you get to pitch a few times when the team is out of it. If you do the job there, maybe you're long relief. If you do the job there, maybe you're middle relief. If you do the job there, then you get a shot at holding a lead. If you do that, your career's under way.

"You've got to give something back in return. You've got to see some light at the end of the tunnel and then you want to go with it.

"I would like to think I can get that 94, 95 [mph fastball] coming out of the bullpen. The numbers aren't there but the talent is. We talked about switching with somebody but it's pretty much the same scenario with anybody else. I guess that's something that will have to be talked about more, but I'd like to see Rocky get going. That's a good arm."

Conine back to bench

After getting three hits off Greg Maddux in the series opener, Jeff Conine surrendered right field and the cleanup spot to Albert Belle.

Belle returned to the lineup after sitting out Friday's 6-2 win, which came two nights after he engaged in a heated shouting match with Miller in the dugout at Florida's Pro Player Stadium. He singled twice yesterday in four at-bats, raising his average to .249.

Miller said it was difficult sending Conine to the bench, considering he's hitting .394 (13-for-33) in his past 12 games, and .364 (43-for-118) in his past 34. "But then again, I am putting in one of the most feared No. 4 hitters in baseball. Albert's a tremendous talent and we need to get him going.

"You're a pretty good ballclub when you can have Conine or [Harold] Baines or [Will] Clark sitting on the bench."

Miller was hopeful that having a few days off -- the team didn't play on Thursday -- would freshen up Belle. He has hit one homer in his past 22 games, spanning 98 plate appearances, and is batting .220 (15-for-68) in his past 17 games.

"I think mentally, just shutting things down and sitting back and looking at a game is helpful," Miller said.

O's ad defends attendance

Displeased by characterizations of the team's attendance, the Orioles purchased an ad in today's Sun to state their position.

A June 4 Sun article reported that the club had experienced a 7 percent drop in attendance in its first 24 home dates compared with last season. The numbers represented the club's lowest attendance since moving into Camden Yards with the exception of 1995, which began nearly a month late because of a players strike.

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