Maduro starts to make case

O's prospect shuts out Reds for 2 innings in bid to claim No. 5 role

March 04, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- One of the most important days in Calvin Maduro's baseball life unfolded yesterday. It lasted only two innings. Its meaning could stretch much further.

Fighting for a spot in the Orioles' rotation, Maduro tossed two scoreless innings in a 6-4 victory over a Cincinnati Reds split squad in the exhibition opener for both clubs. He needed 22 pitches, and very little help.

Maduro was filling in for Scott Erickson, who underwent elbow surgery in Los Angeles yesterday and is expected to miss six to eight weeks.

Pat Rapp most likely will move up to fourth in the rotation. Maduro would like to follow him, but he must stave off challengers, such as Jose Mercedes, Radhames Dykhoff and Matt Riley.

A two-out triple by Hal Morris in the first inning represented the only whiff of trouble surrounding Maduro, who blew three high fastballs by Brooks Kieschnick to end the threat. He struck out Michael Tucker in similar fashion in the second inning while retiring the Reds in order.

"He threw the ball well," said manager Mike Hargrove. "On the triple, on a regular day it would have been an out, but the wind was blowing out."

Maduro, 25, benefited from the Reds' flimsy lineup. Most of the stars, including Ken Griffey, stayed behind in Sarasota to play in front of their Grapefruit League fans. Only left fielder Dmitri Young qualified as a regular making the trip, though Morris used to be a starting first baseman. The jury's still out on Jason Larue and Gookie Dawkins.

Back with the Orioles after three seasons in the Philadelphia Phillies' organization, Maduro retired six of the seven batters he faced. Only two balls left the infield, a shallow fly to left by former Orioles farmhand Kimera Bartee and Morris' triple off the fence in left-center field. He also handled a tapper to the right of the mound.

"I was nervous in the first inning. I was probably trying to throw too hard. I was staying up in the zone and I was lucky to get through the inning," said Maduro, who began the 1997 season in the Phillies' rotation and made 13 starts.

"The second inning, I came out and I was very relaxed. I was down in the zone and my pitches were working better. My changeup was way better in the second inning."

A jolt of confidence arrived when he struck out Kieschnick. "He came out swinging. I just wanted to see if he could hit it. I got lucky he swung at three pitches," Maduro said.

The thought crossed Maduro's mind that he might be able to squeeze another inning out of Hargrove, but that idea quickly was put to rest. "They said, `No, we scheduled you for two so that's it.' But I would have gladly gone another inning. I was getting comfortable out there."

Maduro went 11-11 with a 3.99 ERA and 149 strikeouts at Triple-A Rochester last season, but pitching coach Larry McCall said the right-hander could have won 15 games with better run support. He wouldn't have reached double figures without correcting a flaw in his mechanics.

"He was rushing a little bit," McCall said. "He said nobody really worked with him in Philadelphia. He made the adjustment by himself, and by the middle of the year he was a pretty good pitcher."

He would have been a pitcher with an ERA above 4.00 if not for a scoreless inning in the season's final game. Going on two days' rest, Maduro was allowed to throw an inning in relief. His fastball was clocked around 95 mph, instead of the usual 91-92.

"He opened a few eyes then," McCall said.

Maduro's curveball has become more consistent, and he's always possessed a good changeup. He also began to use a cutter last season. McCall would like to see him pitch inside more. "He's always pitched well on the outside part of the plate," McCall said.

Until recently, Maduro seemed to have little more than an outside chance of making the club.

"It's an opportunity for him," McCall said. "He's just got to go out and believe in himself. It's up to him to make the most of it."

Yesterday was a start.

"It's way too soon. It's just the first game of spring," said Maduro, who is out of options and would have to clear waivers before going back to Rochester. "I'm just trying to keep the good work up. Every single start is key, so every time I go out there I have to do good."

Maduro only wishes it didn't take an injury to Erickson to open the door a little wider.

"I don't want to get a spot because somebody is hurt," he said. "I want to earn it."

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