Lunar expected to catch a start


Young backup is patient

Roberts' blisters a concern

May 02, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The Orioles' youth movement has been slow to reach backup catcher Fernando Lunar.

Lunar has made only five appearances this season - none in a starting capacity. That most likely will change tonight, however, when the Orioles conclude their latest series with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Lunar is expected to be in the starting lineup for the first time this season.

"I really want to get him at-bats and he'll probably play tomorrow," manager Mike Hargrove said. "He's probably our best catch-and-throw guy, as far as the strength of his arm and how he handles himself behind the plate. He'll be playing more, but not at the exclusion of Brook Fordyce. Fordyce is our regular catcher."

Lunar, 23, who's out of options and can't be sent to the minors without passing through waivers, has been glued to the bench even as Fordyce remains in a lengthy slump. Fordyce is 3-for-40, and didn't get his first RBIs until Saturday.

Another backup, Greg Myers, made five consecutive starts beginning April 14 while providing the only hot bat in the Orioles' lineup. Even rookie Mike Kinkade has started twice behind the plate.

"I know Myers is a veteran player and has more experience than me. I can't worry about that," Lunar said. "This is my first year. I want to play, but I know they also have to play Myers and Kinkade."

Hargrove has provided steady at-bats for Kinkade and Jay Gibbons, a Rule 5 pick who must remain with the club all season or be offered back to Toronto for $25,000. Gibbons went 1-for-3 with an RBI as the designated hitter last night, his 15th start in 27 games. Kinkade surrendered third base but has made 11 starts while continuing to be evaluated by club officials at the expense of Cal Ripken, whose playing time has diminished.

Gibbons and Kinkade have totaled 58 and 46 at-bats, respectively. Lunar has received four, with his only hit being a two-run double in the 11th inning that enabled the Orioles to defeat Cleveland, 4-2, on April 7. So far, it's easily been the highlight of Lunar's season.

"I come here every day and do my hitting and be ready when they give me a chance," said Lunar, the only active player remaining from last July's trade of B. J. Surhoff to Atlanta. "Physically and mentally, I'm good. I'm ready whenever they want to put me in," he said."[Hargrove] told me he would be giving me some at-bats, and probably tomorrow I'd play. I'm happy. I'll do the best I can. I'm not going to put pressure on myself. I'll just try to do good."

Off to blistering start

Willis Roberts can remember one instance in spring training when he developed a blister on his pitching hand. It happened no more than twice in winter ball. So why has it become a regular occurrence this season?

Hoping to find the answer, Roberts has been watching video of himself to see if he's gripping the ball differently or doing something else to cause the blisters, which cropped up on his middle and index fingers during Monday's start and prevented him from throwing a split-fingered fastball.

"I don't see anything," he said.

Hargrove said the sores could be caused by the edges of Roberts' nails digging into his fingers.

"We've termed it a blister, but I don't know that it's a blister," he said. "[Trainer] Richie Bancells is working on it, cutting his fingernails shorter and trimming the sides better. It may be something we have to deal with every time out until we find something that finally works."

At least Roberts' performance hasn't been hurt. He's a candidate to be named the American League's top rookie for April after going 4-0 with a 1.95 ERA.

Devils made 'em do it

The Devil Rays will leave Baltimore after tonight's game, but the Orioles aren't finished with them yet. They return to St. Petersburg, Fla., for three games beginning next Tuesday, marking the fourth series between the teams. They'll also play three more games in Baltimore beginning July 31, and three at Tropicana Field starting Aug. 21.

The unbalanced schedule has left no more games against Hargrove's former team, the Cleveland Indians, who wrapped up their season series with the Orioles on April 19.

"As good as Cleveland is, I'd just as soon not play them ever," Hargrove quipped.

Defensive gems

The Orioles went into last night's game ranked last in the majors in team batting average at .228 and home runs with 16, but they didn't need to apologize for their defense. They had committed 13 errors, the second-fewest in the league behind Seattle (12).

"We felt like our defense was going to be much improved over last year and it has been," Hargrove said. "Everybody has done their jobs. We've caught the balls we're supposed to catch and made some great plays on some that maybe is due to increased range. Without us being able to catch the ball the way we have, I don't know where we'd be. It's been a big plus for us."

Though they remain bottom-feeders in the pool of batting averages, the Orioles had crept within three points of Tampa Bay (.231) and blew past the Mendoza Line, which proved so difficult to cross last month.

"We'd rather have done it two weeks ago or a month ago," Hargrove said of the offensive resurgence. "I think it bodes very well for us and the future of this organization, being able to do what we've done by not hitting on all cylinders."

Mussina's return

Mike Mussina, who pitched a three-hit shutout last night for New York in Minnesota, is scheduled to pitch Sunday in the Yankees' last game of a weekend series at Camden Yards.

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