Ponson's pitches don't prove tricky at all to Cardinals

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Lankford, McGwire launch blasts off O's starter into right-field bleachers

March 22, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- If any good can come from the home runs being served up by Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson this spring, it's that maybe he's getting them out of his system before Opening Day.

"How about I give up 35 now and then none during the season?" he asked.

Ponson added two to his ledger yesterday against the St. Louis Cardinals. He grooved a fastball to Ray Lankford and hung a slider to Mark McGwire. Both balls cut through a strong wind blowing in from right field. Both of them headed toward the bleachers with bad intent.

"When the season comes around, I cannot do these mistakes," said Ponson, who has allowed a club-leading five homers this spring after tying a franchise record with 35 last season.

Lankford's blast leading off the fourth inning landed in the last row of seats. Ponson hung another slider to McGwire in the first inning that was driven into the left-center field gap for a run-scoring double.

"He's a great hitter. You have to tip your hat to him," said Ponson, who allowed four earned runs and seven hits in five innings in the Orioles' 10-6, 10-inning loss.

As for the Lankford at-bat, Ponson said, "During the season, I probably wouldn't throw a 3-2 fastball. I'd probably throw a slider or curveball. But it's spring training. I tried to sneak one in and he was sitting on it.

"I liked how I pitched today," Ponson added. "Still, I'm not happy with the outcome. But it's spring training. I feel good and that's the most important thing."

Despite winning the battle yesterday, McGwire noted that Ponson had "good stuff."

"He has a nice little slider," McGwire said. "I don't think he threw me a big hook. The bottom line with young kids is throwing strikes. If you do that, you'll be around a long time. His fastball moves. It's harder than you think it is."

So is lowering an ERA. Ponson increased his total from 6.00 to 6.35 going into his next start, when he'll again go five innings. Ponson then will be extended to six or seven before heading north, where he's slated to pitch the second game on April 5 against the Cleveland Indians.

"When the season starts, it's game on. Everything goes on paper," he said. "Right now you look at how you're throwing the ball and how you feel to prepare yourself for the season."

Surhoff to test elbow

B.J. Surhoff will be leaving the trainer's room today, long enough to get some at-bats and gauge how close he is to regaining his full health.

The left fielder, who has been receiving treatment for tendinitis in his right elbow, will serve as the designated hitter in Port St. Lucie when the Orioles play the New York Mets.

Almonte, Ashley reassigned

The Orioles made three more cuts yesterday, paring their spring roster to 41.

Outfielders Wady Almonte and Billy Ashley were reassigned to the minor-league camp. Shortstop Eddy Martinez, who played at Single-A Frederick last season, was optioned to Triple-A Rochester.

Almonte batted only .167 in eight games, but got noticed for recording three assists against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Fla. He would have gotten three outs if catcher Charles Johnson hadn't dropped a throw at the plate.

Ashley, the minor-league Player of the Year at Triple-A Albuquerque in 1994, received only seven at-bats this spring. One of them produced a mammoth home run in Viera.

Martinez hit .250 (2-for-8) and made two errors. He had 36 at Frederick last year, but could remain in Rochester once the season begins rather than be in a holding pattern until reassigned.

"He may have to play there. We've got an opening," said Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations. "Let's see what he can do."

Martinez, 22, played 12 games with the Red Wings in 1997 before opening the next season at lower Single-A Delmarva. "He's played more baseball than the average person," Thrift said.

McElroy to pitch

Reliever Chuck McElroy, who came to the Orioles in a December trade of Jesse Orosco at the winter meetings, is scheduled to pitch three innings for the first time today in Sarasota.

"That way I'll be able to use all my pitches that I need," said McElroy, who's allowed four runs and 10 hits in eight innings. "In certain situations in games now, you've got to stay with your strong stuff and that's what I've been doing. Basically just throwing strikes and working on location, making them put the ball in play."

McElroy, 32, hasn't gone more than two innings this spring. Once the season begins, he could be used to retire a left-handed hitter or asked to stretch out for an extended period and save the rest of the bullpen. He's prepared either way, especially knowing that with a designated hitter in the American League, he won't be removed for a pinch hitter. His chances of staying in a game beyond one in- ning improved with the trade.

"You have to get used to that," he said. "The good thing about being a reliever is you have to be ready for anything."

Halabi in hospital

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