Game of toss today 1st `strenuous' step in Ponson recovery

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Team remains hopeful of return in nine days

Segui thankful for Murray

April 22, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson is expected to throw today for the first time since being diagnosed with tendinitis in his right elbow, and club officials remain confident that he'll be ready to come off the disabled list when eligible in nine days.

Ponson, named the No. 2 starter before the season, will play catch in his most strenuous activity since being shut down after complaining of soreness in the elbow.

"He wanted to throw today and we backed him off it, so he'll probably do that tomorrow," said manager Mike Hargrove. "It's coming along fine."

In his most recent appearance, last Sunday at home against Tampa Bay, Ponson gave up three home runs in seven innings of a 7-4 loss to the Devil Rays. He's 0-3 with a 6.62 ERA and has allowed a team-high six homers in 17 2/3 innings.

An examination of Ponson's elbow didn't reveal any structural damage, and the club maintains he's dealing with a mild case of tendinitis.

"It's still early," Hargrove said, "but I have no reason at this point to think he won't be ready to pitch when he comes off."

In his absence, Willis Roberts allowed one run in six innings in his first major-league start on Friday, helping the Orioles to a 6-3 win over the Devil Rays.

Roberts will take Ponson's next turn Wednesday in Detroit. The Tigers were one of the organizations that released him before he signed with the Orioles in November as a minor-league free agent.

Roberts and Jason Johnson worked on normal rest in the first two games here, as Jose Mercedes will today, despite tomorrow's day off. Pat Hentgen will get an extra day when he opens the three-game series in Detroit on Tuesday, and the fifth starter won't be needed until Saturday in Minnesota.

Chuck McElroy, who has filled that role for three starts, including Thursday's game against Cleveland, most likely will return to the bullpen. Hargrove has withheld making an official announcement.

Murray tips pay off

He won't reveal specifics, but David Segui credits first base coach Eddie Murray for his improvement at the plate in recent days.

Segui belted his first homer on Friday, along with a run-scoring single, in the Orioles' 6-3 victory. Yesterday, he hit a ball to left that initially was ruled a home run before being changed to a double because of fan interference.

"I've been seeing the ball, but at times I feel like I'm swinging right through it. It's definitely got to be something mechanical," he said. "Eddie made a suggestion a couple days ago that really helped. He obviously knows something about hitting. When he makes a suggestion, you definitely listen."

As for going deep for the first time, Segui said, "I don't worry about home runs. I worry about consistently hitting the ball hard."

Segui had other concerns yesterday. Besides losing his home run, which brought him out of the dugout and into separate arguments with two umpires, he also committed his first error since Aug. 7, 1999 on a second-inning grounder by Fred McGriff.

Pressure on Gibbons

Jay Gibbons understands that guys obtained in the Rule 5 draft traditionally do a lot more sitting than playing, so each opportunity to crack the lineup brings added pressure to produce. The challenge is harnessing his energy so it doesn't work against him.

"It's just been great to get some playing time this early in the season. Coming in, I wasn't really sure what was going to happen," said Gibbons, who can't be sent down to the minors without the Orioles offering him back to his former team, the Blue Jays, for $25,000.

"I do have to slow myself down. Sometimes I feel a little jumpy."

By receiving more at-bats lately - Gibbons served as the designated hitter yesterday, his eighth start of the season - he shouldn't feel rusty anymore.

"The hardest point is keeping your eye when you're not playing, hitting a lot in the cage," he said. "You just have to keep your timing. That's the main thing."

Healthy start

When discussions center on the leading prospects in the Orioles' organization, a first-round pick in the 1998 draft somehow remains excluded.

Maybe it's because of the injuries that have kept him off the field for prolonged stretches, and from rising above Single-A, while others have shot past him as if he's standing still.

First baseman Rick Elder is looking to change that this season, and he's off to a good start.

Elder, who came to the Orioles from Sprayberry (Ga.) High School, is batting .423, with four doubles, one triple, five homers and 16 RBIs in 52 at-bats with Delmarva.

He got at least one hit in the first 11 games before going 0-for-2 with two walks on Tuesday. He's reached base in every game.

Limited to 14 games last year because of bone chips in his left elbow, which required surgery by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., Elder is healthy and productive - a combination the Orioles have been waiting for since drafting him.

"This is the first time he's played every day," said farm director Don Buford. "I always felt he had this ability. He's one of the most natural players we have with power. His potential to hit the ball out of the park is as good as anyone in the organization.

"He's getting used to what professional baseball is all about. He came back this winter really dedicated and has improved offensively and defensively. He's done very well. He's totally healthy, and it shows by the way he's playing."

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