Rapp's pitch could be a cutter above with 7 days' rest


Rainouts delayed start

Ripken keepsake for sale

Groom eyes 70 again


April 20, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

When Orioles starter Pat Rapp takes the mound today against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, he'll be working on seven days' rest and wondering what to expect.

"If I've ever done that before, I don't remember. It's been a while if I have," he said.

Rapp threw lightly during batting practice yesterday to "take some of the edge off, try to make sure I'm not too strong out there and I'm able to hit my spots."

He had been scheduled to pitch on Monday before rain caused a postponement, and again on Tuesday before the elements again conspired against him.

Not wanting ace Mike Mussina to work on six days' rest, manager Mike Hargrove used him last night and held back Rapp until today.

"It'll probably snow," he said.

Rapp, who carried a shutout into the seventh inning of his last start, is concerned what effect the layoff will have on his cut fastball.

"The way my fastball cuts, it'll probably be cutting a foot," he said. "C.J. [Charles Johnson], or whoever's catching, will be diving for it if I don't do something. They'll be like, `He usually averages 88 to 92 [mph], but today he's throwing 95 and I don't know where the heck it's going.' "

Hargrove still hasn't decided on a starter for Sunday's game in Oakland. The turn falls to Calvin Maduro, but Hargrove won't commit to the Aruban right-hander. Part of his reluctance stems from the improvement shown by Jason Johnson, who is 1-0 with an 0.90 ERA and league-leading 19 strikeouts at Triple-A Rochester.

Hargrove said he's waiting to see how Maduro is used in the coming days while available in the bullpen, but the club may have seen enough of Johnson to promote him and keep Maduro in relief. Of course, Maduro's roster spot could be needed for Johnson, but he is out of options and rather than risk losing him, the Orioles could demote struggling reliever Al Reyes, who has options remaining.

After allowing 52 base runners in 22 spring innings to earn a demotion, Johnson has returned to throwing strikes in his three starts in Rochester.

"That's what I didn't see in spring training," Hargrove said. "I don't know why, unless Jason was concentrating on working on his mechanics or certain pitches and not really concentrating on throwing strikes. But the whole premise of pitching is throwing strikes."

Ripken keepsake

Fans interested in a keepsake from the night Cal Ripken collected his 3,000th hit can obtain a commemorative baseball that's being sold to the public.

Nikco Sports is offering a limited edition baseball featuring a full-color photograph of Ripken and the date of his historic single against the Minnesota Twins. It also comes with an acrylic display case, engraved nameplate and certificate of authenticity. The cost is $34.95, and it can be obtained by calling 1-800-345-2868 or visiting www.nikcosports.com.

The ball, which is an officially licensed product of Major League Baseball, also includes orange and black stitching, a 3,000th Hit logo and silhouette of Ripken swinging a bat on the back panel. Only 5,000 balls were made available, and almost 1,400 were sold the first day.

Proceeds from the sale of each ball go to the Kelly and Cal Jr. Foundation.

Man's best friend

Hargrove took advantage of Tuesday's rainout by flying to Cleveland to visit his family.

"My dog didn't forget me," he said. "A couple of my kids did."

Groomed to produce

If Buddy Groom can reach at least 70 appearances this season, he'll be treading on new ground. Not for him, but the rest of baseball.

No other pitcher has recorded at least 70 outings in five straight seasons. Groom is among four active pitchers to do it the last four. It's not a record that brings the same attention as Mark McGwire's home run binges, but it's important to Groom.

"I'd love to be known as an Iron Man," said Groom, who signed a two-year contract with the Orioles in December. "It would be nice to do it five years in a row. Even if the other guys do it, too, I'd still be in there for five years, and then I can go for six."

Groom often is used as a left-handed specialist, coming into games to face one or two hitters. That's how he can pile up the appearances. Hargrove let him pitch the ninth on Opening Day, but extended him for three innings on April 6, when Groom allowed only one hit and picked up the save.

"I did more of that in the second half the last two seasons," he said. "I didn't go three innings, but I'd go one or two innings. The first half I did a lot of specialty work. When they started letting me go and stretching me out a little bit, I seemed to be better.

"I seemed to be a little sharper and had better success. I don't mind doing it at all. It gets me out there and builds my innings up, and it gives the other guys in the bullpen a chance to take a day off."

Hargrove has indicated that Groom will be used for multiple innings on occasion this season despite a reputation for only seeing a few batters each appearance. Going into last night, Groom had gotten into five games, totaling seven innings.

Around the horn

Mike Bordick singled to lead off the third inning, extending his hitting streak to a career-high 14 games over two seasons. He has a hit in all 13 of the Orioles' games this season. With a first-inning single, Jose Canseco has hit in 12 of the Devil Rays' 14 games.

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