Closer or no, Molina eager to pitch in

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Young pitcher is being groomed, but role unclear

emergency catcher sought

February 28, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Gabe Molina isn't sure what the Orioles have planned for him. Maybe they want to groom him as their closer. Maybe they just want to find a bullpen role for him. Maybe they're not even sure.

Last season provided few hints.

Molina recorded 18 saves at Triple-A Rochester after setting a record at Double-A Bowie with 24 in 1998. Recalled by the Orioles for the second time on July 2, Molina was given the chance to close out a win against Toronto by former manager Ray Miller, who had grown desperate for somebody to seize the opportunity while Mike Timlin struggled. The experiment ended that night when Willie Greene launched a two-run homer in the ninth.

Molina, 24, would make one more stop in Baltimore in September after running off 14 straight saves at Rochester. He was back in his familiar role, one he might have held with the Orioles if not for Greene.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm being groomed to close," he said, "but it's really hard to tell because they really don't say, `OK, we want you to be the closer.' One day they might come up to me and say, `Hey, we want you to be a starter.'

"I don't know if they're grooming me to be anything else besides a good pitcher."

Farm director Don Buford said the situation will "take care of itself."

"He's probably being groomed right now as a middle guy or setup guy, and he'll work his way into a closer if it ever happens," Buford said. "He has the capabilities, but only the player can determine that. You get the outs and you'll determine your own fate."

After not allowing a run in his first three appearances with the Orioles, Molina gave up four runs over his next three outings and was optioned to Rochester. He lost steam again at the end of the season, not allowing a run in his first seven appearances before being scored upon in his last four and raising his ERA from 3.60 to 6.65.

"Overall, it was a totally positive experience," he said. "Just being in the big leagues, you can only learn from it. I had my ups and downs, but I definitely had enough good things happen to realize I can pitch at this level. I struggled that last week of the season and wasn't happy about it, but I think I learned from it. I think I can build from that and try to work from that for this year."

Unless there's a surprise awaiting him, Molina most likely will begin this season at Rochester. Manager Mike Hargrove has said he'll take 11 pitchers north until needing a fifth starter on April 9, and the last bullpen spot is expected to go to veteran Tim Worrell, who was signed to a minor-league contract and invited to spring training. But Molina isn't discouraged.

"I think everyone always sees a spot for themselves when trying to make the team when they come into spring training. No matter how much of a long shot it is, you still have those hopes. That's why you're here," he said.

"I had a taste last year and it kind of makes you work harder. There's a big difference between the minor leagues and the major leagues. You see that and you just work harder and try to stay."

In any capacity.

Only the crazy may apply

With Jeff Reboulet no longer on the club, Hargrove must find another emergency catcher who can fill in if Charles Johnson and Greg Myers are injured or unavailable in the same game.

So far, Hargrove doesn't have a candidate in mind. But he's pretty sure about the criteria.

"We'll find somebody," he said. "Somebody who's stupid. Somebody who's crazy."

Kingsale full speed ahead

Eugene Kingsale said he was surprised to find out he still has one option remaining, but won't let that distract him from what needs to be done this spring.

"I'm not worried about it," he said. "I've just got to keep doing what I've been doing, work hard and see what's going to happen. I had a pretty good season last year. Hopefully, they'll give me a chance. If not, I'll go and try to get better and work my way up."

Kingsale, whose stock improved in the Arizona Fall League, is hoping to unseat Rich Amaral as an extra outfielder. But the Orioles have the advantage of being able to send him back to Rochester without trying to pass him through waivers.

Club officials had assumed Kingsale, 23, who was signed in 1993, was out of options until finding out otherwise in late November. They added up his time spent on the disabled list and in shortened rookie-league seasons and determined he had played fewer than five full professional seasons.

"I think there's an opening here," said Kingsale, who hit .247 in 85 at-bats and showed good range in center field with the Orioles for parts of last season. "If I do the job and perform well, the numbers will speak for themselves. Hopefully, I'll have a space here. If not, then somewhere else."

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