Rapp produces big results in short stint

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Projected fourth starter pitches two perfect innings

March 07, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Until being told otherwise on Sunday, Orioles pitcher Pat Rapp assumed he'd be throwing three innings in yesterday's exhibition start against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Instead, he was pulled after two, unable to match the distance allowed to Jason Johnson and Mike Mussina.

Rapp made the most of his limited time.

Six batters stepped up, six batters went down. Three of them were strikeout victims, and none of them got a ball out of the infield in the Orioles' 17-3 romp over the Dodgers at Holman Stadium.

"I felt pretty good," said Rapp, who has gone from fifth-starter candidate to likely No. 4 starter while Scott Erickson rehabs his elbow. "I stayed on top of my pitches pretty good."

Rapp had excellent movement on his four-seamer. And his curveball, which wasn't sharp in past days or while he warmed up in the bullpen yesterday, was much better. He showed off a slower version to left-handed hitters, and a sharp-breaking one to right-handers.

There were other aspects of the outing that were just as important to Rapp. Perhaps more so.

"The best thing about it is I'm throwing strikes and not letting my guys get on their heels," he said. "That's been the rap with me, that I get deep into counts. I'm trying to get ahead and stay down in the zone. It's when I lose my mechanics that I start to get the ball up and walk guys."

Manager Mike Hargrove concurred. "We've talked to him about it. We've tried to get across the idea we want him to get outs earlier in the count and throw strikes. Early in spring training, that's a tough row to hoe."

An earlier 12-minute bullpen session had suggested to Rapp that he'd go three innings yesterday. "They're just trying to get me on a fourth starter's schedule right now," he said.

That's a switch from the original plan, which had Rapp competing for the fifth slot. "I'm just going to let my arm show them what I have. Hopefully the way I approach the game and the knowledge I've got will keep me in the rotation," he said.

"Just because guys are second and third doesn't mean they're better than me. That's just where the ball falls right now. But it doesn't matter. I'm just going to throw my game. As long as I'm starting, I don't care where it is."

May hopes to stay

Derrick May could have gone elsewhere, perhaps to a club with a greater need for his services. But he wanted to stay in the Orioles' organization and close to home, badly enough to accept a minor-league contract and likely return to Triple-A Rochester this season.

May made a rare start yesterday, going 1-for-4 with a run scored while replacing Albert Belle in right field. Belle stayed behind in Fort Lauderdale, along with starters Brady Anderson, Charles Johnson and Mike Bordick.

The Delaware native hit safely in 13 of 21 games after having his contract purchased from Rochester on Aug. 21. He batted .265 with four homers and 12 RBIs. Five of his RBIs came in the eighth or ninth inning and either tied the game or gave the Orioles the lead. He was a valuable addition, but not enough to assure a job this spring.

"I didn't feel like going out and looking anywhere else," he said. "No matter what the situation was here, I wanted to stay. I love the atmosphere. It's just someplace I wanted to play. I didn't feel like going anyplace else, or even looking."

There's quite a line forming for the job of extra outfielder and pinch hitter. Eugene Kingsale helped his cause yesterday with two doubles, three RBIs and three runs scored. Billy Ashley crushed a home run estimated at 445 feet in Viera on Wednesday. Wayne Kirby drove in two runs and scored twice. And Rich Amaral, the incumbent, stroked a two-run double in the ninth inning.

"If I'm given a legitimate shot, I'll definitely take my chances that way," said May, 31, who needed only four days after filing for free agency to re-sign with the Orioles.

"If I do well, hopefully I'm rewarded. If not, then I accept that, too."

Familiar faces

Vero Beach has become home to former Orioles. Relievers Alan Mills, Mike Fetters and Gregg Olson are in camp. So is Geronimo Berroa, who batted fourth and played right field yesterday as only he can. And Julio Vinas, who was Rochester's Most Valuable Player last season, is with the Dodgers as a non-roster catcher.

Fetters proved useful to the Orioles this spring by answering some questions from Erickson as Erickson headed to a Los Angeles hospital for arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow. Fetters had been through it last season, when he appeared in only 27 games and missed nearly three months.

"He knows if I can get through it, he can get through it," said Fetters, who was 1-0 with a 5.81 ERA.

A decent April gave way to health problems that diminished the Orioles' interest in bringing him back. They wanted to retool the bullpen, and Fetters wasn't part of the plan.

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