Decision made on fifth starter, but name left out of rotation

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Signs point to McElroy over Roberts, pending ongoing trade talks

March 28, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

VIERA, Fla. -- Without naming names, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said last night that the club has decided upon its fifth starter. The lack of further comment suggests veteran left-handed reliever Chuck McElroy has earned the berth over rookie Willis Roberts, barring an 11th-hour trade.

Several teams have followed the Orioles' left-handers this spring. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers and Pittsburgh Pirates are among the most interested, but would project McElroy in relief.

Roberts, acquired as a minor-league free agent and in camp as a nonroster invitee, apparently will make the club as a reliever, but is positioned to join the rotation if McElroy is dealt.

The club continues to hold to a cloak-and-dagger approach in discussing its roster, a fact attributable to ongoing trade talks involving McElroy, backup catcher Greg Myers and utility player Jeff Conine. Vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift has encountered difficulty cultivating a market for either Myers or Conine. Myers is in the more tenuous position, but would remain because of a contract guaranteeing him $1.2 million this season plus a $200,000 buyout.

Hargrove said last night that the Orioles are prepared to carry four catchers from Atlanta on Saturday -- Brook Fordyce, Myers, Fernando Lunar and utility player Mike Kinkade. Such a configuration would be almost unprecedented within a five-man bench.

The Orioles appear ready to option speedy infielder Brian Roberts after being teased by the possibility of employing him as a utility infielder. Thrift continues to pursue a veteran utility infielder; however, the thought of possibly retarding Roberts' development to keep him as a seldom-used spare part lost its attractiveness in the last 10 days. Roberts, 23, has played only 104 professional games, none above Class A, since being selected with the 50th overall selection of the 1999 draft.

"Either way, I'm excited about what's happened," said Roberts, who admitted expecting a perfunctory three-week look and then being hustled to minor-league camp. "I've had an opportunity and I've tried to do as much as I could with it."

Roberts entered last night batting .357 with six extra-base hits and eight RBIs in 42 at-bats. Roberts also has stolen a team-high five bases while being caught only once.

The Orioles have little interest in recently released Mickey Morandini, but may be focusing on the Arizona Diamondbacks' glut of middle infielders. The Diamondbacks are among the teams seeking a backup catcher, but have so far refused to meet Thrift's asking price of a rostered player.

Segui unbound

First baseman David Segui intends to play today for the first time since aggravating a hamstring pull on March 12. The Orioles are anxious to see how their cleanup hitter looks.

Segui has received only 16 at-bats in seven games because of a right hamstring that has bothered him for the majority of camp. Segui has taken batting practice for the past week, but only recently intensified running drills designed to test an injury that would have landed him on the 15-day disabled list had it occurred during the season. Asked what his leg told him after running first-to-third six times yesterday, Segui replied, "It's more a matter of what it's not telling me."

Hargrove projected that four games will be enough for Segui to regain form. "He's not going on the disabled list," he vowed.

Bad math and Mills

Reliever Alan Mills hasn't heard it from the club, but the veteran reliever is familiar enough with spring training math to deduce that he will start the season on a rehabilitation assignment.

Mills made his third appearance of camp last night, but does not have enough time to pitch himself into shape before Monday's opener against the Boston Red Sox. He might pitch in Atlanta on Saturday or leave the club in Fort Lauderdale to continue his recovery from September shoulder surgery in Sarasota. Regardless, an organizational decision to open with 11 pitchers argues against a reliever still unable to appear on consecutive days.

"I don't want to go north if I'm not able to contribute," said Mills, who has yet to be approached by Hargrove or Thrift about his condition. "I don't want to be a liability. I don't want to be in the position of not being able to pitch the day after I give them one inning."

Mills underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery to repair his right labrum.

Around the horn

THE NUMBER: 14. Games missed by Segui before today's anticipated start against the Florida Marlins.

INJURY UPDATE: Reliever Buddy Groom reported no ill effects from Monday's appearance. Groom had been slowed for most of a week with neck and back spasms. ... Third baseman Cal Ripken was in the lineup for a fourth straight game after surviving a bullet grounder off Mark McGwire's bat on Sunday.

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