Riley `ready to go' after bullpen work

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Top prospect says arm `feels great,' could pitch in game Monday or Tuesday

March 10, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Orioles pitcher Matt Riley completed a 12-minute bullpen session yesterday without any setbacks and said he could pitch for the first time this spring by Monday or Tuesday.

Riley, the top prospect in the organization, has been held out of games because of some soreness in his left biceps. He also threw on Tuesday and said the arm "feels great."

"I'm ready to go," said Riley, 20, who made the jump from Single-A Frederick to the majors last season. "It was just a day thing. Two weeks before I came down here, I didn't throw at all because it was raining every day. It was tough to get out and do anything. Now, I can't wait to get into a game."

Riley was scheduled to pitch against the New York Mets on Tuesday but continues to be brought along slowly. He's expected to throw again tomorrow before making his first appearance, and his first bid to win the fifth starter's job. One of the candidates, right-hander Calvin Maduro, will have made three starts before Riley steps on the mound.

"It'll be tough but I've still got three weeks left. They'll get me in there and I'll show them what I've got," he said.

"I've just got to come in and try to do what I can do. Let my talent take control and see what happens."

Riley made three jittery starts for the Orioles after being promoted from Double-A Bowie in September. He'll likely begin this season at Triple-A Rochester before returning to Camden Yards during the summer. The timetable seems to suit him fine.

"I trust them to make the right decision," he said. "I think they're going to give me a fair shot. They just want to see if I can get big-league hitters out."

Riley has used a portion of his side sessions to work on his changeup, a necessary third pitch to go with a mid-90s fastball and knee-buckling curveball. Pitching coach Sammy Ellis has taught Riley to use a modified grip when throwing the change, and the left-hander began experimenting with it last week.

"It's like a split change," Riley said.

Yesterday's time in the bullpen also enabled Riley to correct a mechanical flaw that had caused his curveball to flatten. "I'm starting to get that sharp breaking back," he said. "I felt good about that. I thought I lost it there for a minute."

Conine gets shot

Jeff Conine, who is trying to make the adjustment to playing third base this spring, received a cortisone shot yesterday after being diagnosed with tendinitis in his right rotator cuff. He's expected to miss at least the next two games.

Conine had an ice pack wrapped around his right shoulder before leaving the ballpark while the Orioles took morning batting practice.

"We'll sit on it for a couple days and see where we're at," said manager Mike Hargrove.

Conine is being groomed as a backup to Cal Ripken, who also missed yesterday's game with neck stiffness. Ryan Minor started at third and went 0-for-4 in the Orioles' 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

In the last three days, the Orioles have lost players at all four infield positions. Besides Ripken and Conine, the club also has been without shortstop Mike Bordick, who returned yesterday after missing the last three games with the flu, and second baseman Jerry Hairston, who is sidelined with a pulled groin muscle.

Hairston estimated he'll remain inactive for at least two more days, though Hargrove said it could be five at the most. He sustained the injury while rounding first base on a double Tuesday night against the Mets.

"I knew right away exactly what it was," he said.

"I really can't do anything about it. I'm just getting treatment on it until it gets better."

Hairston, who watched Delino DeShields make another start at second yesterday, has been receiving heat and ice as part of his treatment. He's being kept out of pre-game drills.

"It's not going to be a long-term thing. At the latest, I hope to be able to play by Sunday," he said.

"They want me to take a couple days off. It's spring training. You don't want to make this a habit. You kind of want to kill it now and make sure you're 100 percent."

Progress for Mussina

If Mike Mussina was looking for progress, he found it yesterday.

The Orioles' ace shut out St. Louis on four hits over three innings. He walked one and struck out two.

In his first exhibition start, Mussina gave up four earned runs and six hits in three innings against the Florida Marlins.

"I felt a little better today," he said. "I didn't necessarily feel physically strong, but I had a better idea which side of the plate I was working with. That's just experience, being out there and getting used to doing it again. Hopefully next time out, I'll feel even better."

Mussina had to wiggle out of a couple jams. He gave up two singles in the first inning, which ended when he struck out Craig Paquette. The first two Cardinals reached to open the second, and a one-out walk loaded the bases for Brian McRae. Mussina kept the game scoreless by retiring McRae on a shallow fly to left and getting Larry Sutton to pop up.

"In the spring, you need to have the different situations and different challenges," Mussina said.

Pat Rapp was scheduled to follow Mussina, but he was sent home because of a fever.

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