Hargrove opening mind to possibility of Roberts closing

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Manager: `It's something that I've thought about'

April 13, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

BOSTON - As Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift used the visiting manager's office to make phone calls, Mike Hargrove used the odd setting of an empty shower room to discuss the possibility of rookie Willis Roberts as the team's closer.

"It's something that I've thought about ever since I saw him throw in competition," Hargrove said. "Obviously, the way he threw [Wednesday] night shows he has a lot of value in the [long relief] role he's in. But the way he pitched out of jams, especially the first one he came into, lets you know maybe he could be effective in other roles.

"Everything is good," added Hargrove. "The possibilities are exciting for us, but it's still early in the season. I'm not trying to rain on anybody's parade, but I'd like to see more to make sure we make the right decision."

Roberts, signed as a minor-league free agent last November, dazzled both the Boston Red Sox and the Orioles' brain trust Wednesday night with four shutout innings that included seven strikeouts and a pivotal double-play grounder. He was rewarded with his first major-league win and Thrift praising his "Tom Seaver stuff." Hargrove's rhetoric was less flowery but still revealing.

Asked if it was more likely the Orioles would move Roberts toward short relief than considering him for a starting role, Hargrove said, "Logic dictates that, yeah."

The Orioles have publicly supported rookie Ryan Kohlmeier in the role but privately wonder if his two-pitch assortment, plus a developing changeup, is enough to keep the job. Kohlmeier relies heavily on concealing his pitches and precision, while Roberts owns an overpowering four-seam fastball, plus a two-seamer and split-finger pitch.

Roberts has struck out 12 in 6 2/3 innings and has yet to allow an earned run. The Orioles do not yet know how he handles adversity because, according to Thrift, "He has done nothing wrong."

Game ball, gone ball

When a team commits to younger, less-experienced players, thing happen like the gaffe after Wednesday's win. First baseman Chris Richard caught the game's last out on a throw from second baseman Jerry Hairston and headed toward the Orioles' dugout, where his father sat close by. Wanting to give his dad a keepsake from his first game watching his son play in Fenway Park, Richard flipped the game ball into the stands rather than preserving it for Roberts' first major-league win.

"It didn't cross my mind until it was too late," Richard recalled. "I really wasn't aware it was his first win."

Worse, when Richard asked his father about the ball, he learned that the keepsake had been handed over to an anonymous, young fan.

"I don't think my Dad kept it," Richard said.

Player milestones are usually recorded by calligraphy on game balls. But in Roberts' case, a substitute will be used.

Grover's new look

Hargrove continued to shake up his lineup last night, though not with the same abandon as Wednesday night. Jay Gibbons replaced slumping Delino DeShields in left field, while Mike Kinkade received a start at third base over Cal Ripken. Ripken's day off was related to both nasty weather and Hargrove's intention of resting the 40-year-old at least twice a week.

Gibbons never started in left field during spring training but played there for about 40 games during the Venezuelan Winter League and about 15 last year at Double-A Tennessee. He learned of the assignment when he arrived at the park yesterday but took it in stride. "No problem," said Gibbons. "I'm comfortable there. I'd just like to have some quality at-bats. I haven't been seeing many fastballs when I've been in there, which is a little surprising."

Segui finds a foothold

After languishing for the season's first week, switch-hitter David Segui has begun to resemble the player the Orioles thought they had acquired for $28 million over four years. Segui has worked extensively with hitting coach Terry Crowley and recently rediscovered the left-handed stance that enabled him to hit .334 last season between Texas and Cleveland.

Segui's left-handed stance had become more closed than usual, leaving him unable to swing through pitches. He opened up on Wednesday and has since gone 3-for-9, including 1-for-2 last night.

"It's something so basic I couldn't believe I'd gotten away from it," said Segui, who missed more than two weeks of exhibition games because of an aggravated hamstring pull. "But I hadn't gotten the at-bats I'm used to, and I couldn't get comfortable. Now I am."

Said Crowley: "He just needed some at-bats after missing so much of spring training. He's got a winning attitude. When he scuffles, he works even harder."

After last night's game, Segui is hitting .185 with two RBIs in 27 at-bats. He remains uncertain about where he stands against left-handed pitching since he has seen them for only two at-bats.

"I haven't seen them enough to have any idea," said Segui. "Who knows where I am?"

Conine slowed by foot

Jeff Conine went from hitting cleanup to sitting in the trainer's room yesterday after aggravating a longtime problem with his right foot. Conine stretched the plantar fascia while running the bases in Wednesday night's first inning. He remained in right field for seven innings, going 2-for-4 and driving his two fly ball outs. He gave way to Brady Anderson as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning.

"It's manageable," said Conine, who wouldn't offer a guess as to how long he may be down. "I've had it before and played with it."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: No TV/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Devil Rays' Albie Lopez (1-1, 2.40) vs. Orioles' Pat Hentgen (0-0, 1.62)

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