Reyes is latest hope for battered bullpen


Brewers send right-hander to finish Coppinger deal

July 22, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- The Orioles announced their dividend for Rocky Coppinger yesterday, and it became obvious the Milwaukee Brewers assumed most of the risk in Friday's trade.

Right-handed reliever Al Reyes, 28, was added to the Orioles' beleaguered bullpen after he was acquired as the player to be named in the deal that cost the club its leading problem child.

Reyes was pitching at Triple-A Louisville when notified of the deal Tuesday night but had crafted a 2-0 record and 4.25 ERA in 26 appearances with the Brewers before being optioned July 3 to relieve a numbers crunch. Reyes had allowed runs in only two of his last eight appearances and earlier constructed a stretch of nine consecutive scoreless appearances.

Reyes and Orioles general manager Frank Wren share history. The Montreal Expos originally signed Reyes out of the Dominican Republic in February 1988 when Wren served as the Expos' assistant scouting director. Wren later served as director of Latin American scouting and operations as Reyes pitched in the Dominican winter and summer leagues.

The Brewers selected Reyes in the 1994 Rule 5 Draft. His best season came last year when he appeared in 50 games, going 5-1 with a 3.95 ERA and striking out 58 in 57 innings.

Control problems have followed Reyes for much of this season; he has walked 25 in 36 innings. In his six games at Louisville, Reyes had struggled for an 0-2 record and 8.38 ERA in six appearances.

"When they sent me down I didn't know the situation or what happened at the time," Reyes said. "I didn't feel happy about it. I was doing my job."

Manager Ray Miller projected Reyes' role as middle relief, an area that has tormented the Orioles all season. "Hopefully, he'll pitch the sixth and seventh innings," Miller said. Since the loss of Mike Fetters to an inflamed elbow, Miller has tried Ricky Bones, Coppinger, Gabe Molina and Scott Kamieniecki in the role. Bones recently came off the disabled list; Molina was optioned to Triple-A Rochester on Friday, and Kamieniecki is seen as a right-handed, late-inning possibility. Miller has stuck to his promise to save Mike Timlin exclusively for the ninth inning.

Reyes suffered from a strained right elbow last July but returned in September. He has not experienced any health-related problems this season and wasted no time pressing for work.

"I like to pitch a lot. It's better for me to pitch every one or two days than once every five days," he said.

With Bones, Kamieniecki and Fetters as pending free agents, Reyes also offers a long-term option. He becomes eligible for arbitration after this season.

Coppinger had a rough debut with the Brewers. He suffered a loss in his first appearance, a two-inning stint in which he allowed three earned runs and two homers The Brewers project him as a starter but have at least temporarily put him in the bullpen. Coppinger, 25, won 10 games as a rookie in 1996 but has since battled managers, pitching coaches, weight and injuries. He hopes to receive more consistent handling by Brewers manager Phil Garner than under Miller.

Ripken returns to lineup

Cal Ripken returned to third base last night after a five-day absence. He bore signs of rust but did not exhibit any obvious aftereffects from a deep bruise suffered last Thursday when struck on the right wrist by Kansas City Royals pitcher Mike Thurman.

Ripken's two-run single capped the Orioles' four-run eighth inning, giving him a 2-for-4 night.

Ripken was charged with a first-inning error when Nomar Garciaparra's grounder short-hopped him to his glove side. The error was not a factor in the Red Sox's first-inning run. He made a strong play in the third when he ranged to the third-base line to backhand John Valentin's grounder and throw him out by 1 1/2 steps.

Ripken still has trouble throwing the ball over the top but said that "99 percent" of his throws are from a lower angle.

"There were a lot of unknowns, a lot of uncertainties," he said. "I've had a number of injuries that could be considered nagging. This was more serious. You have to be able to hold the bat and swing the bat. I fouled out one time. Then I fouled out again. But I moved on and it felt OK. So I'm optimistic."

Johnson in a grinder

Catcher Charles Johnson continues to catch and throw brilliantly, but his offense is showing increasing wear from a heavy workload. Johnson has played in 65 of the Orioles' past 69 games, including 28 straight at one point.

Despite last night's RBI single that tied the game in the seventh inning, he is in a 2-for-21 funk that dropped his average from .262 to .248, and he owns only two RBIs in his previous 33 at-bats. He is without a home run since he connected June 25 off Hideki Irabu.

"When you start getting tired, you have to pay attention to your mechanics. When you're tired, there's a tendency to get a little sloppy and fall into bad habits," Johnson said.

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