Technicality rescues Coppinger

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Demotion reversed

Wren may groom him as closer

June 27, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

It had the eerie feel of a badly scripted dream sequence. One minute, Gabe Molina is unpacking his gear at a locker with his nameplate above it. The next, all traces of the Orioles' reliever are gone.

The only thing missing was Rocky Coppinger emerging from the shower as if nothing happened.

Less than 12 hours after Coppinger was optioned to Triple-A Rochester, the Orioles announced yesterday that the right-hander would remain on the active roster because of a technicality.

General manager Frank Wren said the club discovered in the morning that three years had passed this month since Coppinger broke into the majors on June 6, 1996, meaning he must pass through revocable waivers before being sent down. Coppinger, who ridiculed the Orioles after being told he was headed to Rochester following Friday's loss to New York, was summoned to Camden Yards yesterday and arrived about an hour before the game.

Naturally, he was the subject of some good-natured ribbing upon walking into the clubhouse.

"Once a guy arrives in the big leagues, you don't need waivers on him to option him for three years," Wren said. "Three years to that day he arrives for the first time, you've got to have waivers."

Wren added that sending Coppinger, 25, to Rochester "isn't something that's insurmountable in the near future." The Orioles could try to pass him through waivers after the weekend, a process that takes two days. "We might still do that. We haven't determined that yet," Wren said.

Coppinger said he was 10 minutes away from taking his family to the zoo when he received a call from Wren. "He told me they pulled back the option, that something happened and to show up. And here I am," he said.

As has been his history, Coppinger didn't go quietly Friday night. He demanded a trade, saying it had become obvious he no longer was a "high priority" in the organization and accused Miller of viewing him as nothing more than a "mop-up pitcher" because of his use mostly in one-sided games.

"I know I mean little to him. Fine. But at least give me the opportunity to go somewhere else. I'm tired of it here," he said.

Coppinger said yesterday that he wasn't embarrassed to return so soon after venting. "Sometimes you say things in the heat of the moment. Sometimes you mean to say things, sometimes you don't," he said. "I'm 25 years old and when stuff like this goes on in your life, it's really disheartening."

Miller continues to voice support for Coppinger, though he grows frustrated by his lapses in command and judgment. "He's a good arm, obviously. That's why we want him back. He just needs some consistency," Miller said.

Coppinger entered yesterday's game with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth inning and retired all five batters he faced. Joe Girardi's sacrifice fly was the only ball to leave the infield.

Coppinger has been up with the Orioles twice this season, compiling an 8.31 ERA, walking 16 and surrendering five homers in 17 1/3 innings. Three years removed from winning 10 games as a rookie, he's gone from an apparent fixture in the rotation to a reliever.

"I told him I wanted him to go down to Triple-A and close," Wren said. "That way he knew he would be in a definitive role, getting the ball on a regular basis in pressure situations and putting himself in position to be back here in a definitive role in the bullpen."

"The ball's in their court," Coppinger said. "They can do whatever they want with me. If they want to keep me in the bullpen, hopefully I earn [Miller's] trust and they give me more opportunities. If they don't, maybe I earn another team's trust somewhere."

Said Miller: "His role diminished somewhat because we were on such a tear and our starters were pitching real well."

As for the way Coppinger handled his temporary demotion, Miller said, "Other than the player himself, there's no one else in uniform who wants you to do better than the guy who writes your name down and puts you in the game. But for any manager, you're supposed to get a little return on what you put out. There is accountability. He's pitched 15 innings and given up 20 hits and 16 walks. That makes it a little tough to pull the trigger and put him in a one-run game in the eighth inning.

"If anybody was against him in this organization, he wouldn't have been called up twice this year, especially after having a rough spring. It's not like anybody here dislikes Rocky."

Molina left the clubhouse before speaking to reporters after being sent back to Rochester.

Anderson swipes club mark

Brady Anderson was hit by a pitch in the first inning and later swiped third base, giving him the club record for steals with 253. He passed Al Bumbry, who played with the Orioles from 1972 to 1984.

Anderson needed parts of 12 seasons to etch his name into the record book. His 53 steals in 1992 helped offset the games missed in 1994 and 1995 because of the strike.

Hairston gets another start

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