Blake's best shot? Wait till next year

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Claimed off waivers, third base prospect will get chance in Florida

Orioles

September 24, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Orioles manager Mike Hargrove indicated yesterday that there won't be many opportunities for third baseman Casey Blake during the final two weeks of the season. Evaluations will be put on hold until spring training, when Blake can make a push for the starting job.

"We've been looking for people to add to the roster the last two or three weeks," Hargrove said before last night's game against the New York Yankees. "We've been combing the waiver wires, and Casey's name came across. Our scouts liked him a lot. He's put up some decent numbers. He hasn't had a very extended look in the big leagues. We'll look at him as we can, but there's no pressure to see him out there."

Blake, 28, batted .318 with a double and two RBIs in 13 games with the Minnesota Twins. He returned to Triple-A Edmonton on July 22 and stayed there until the Twins placed him on waivers last week. The move came as a surprise to Blake, who batted .309 with 10 homers and 49 RBIs in the minors.

"I was disappointed they didn't bring me back, but they had to do what they had to do," Blake said. "They've got the guys up there who they thought could get them to the playoffs."

Blake returned to his home in Indianola, Iowa, where he cared for his 3 1/2 -month-old daughter. He also found time to play a little golf before baseball interrupted.

Not only didn't Blake receive the promotion that he anticipated before being cut loose, but he also learned of the Orioles' waiver claim from one of their club officials. Nobody from the Twins had contacted him.

"I got this call out of the blue from the Orioles," he said. "I thought somebody was playing around with me because the Twins hadn't called me. I said, `Well, I haven't heard anything from the Twins, but if you guys say so, that's cool.' They said they wanted me to come here and finish up the season."

Unable to budge Corey Koskie off third base, Blake was viewed by the Twins as a utility player in their organization, but a potential starter for someone else.

So far, he has been a pinch runner with the Orioles. He replaced Cal Ripken in the eighth inning of Saturday's game and scored a run.

Could he replace Ripken at third next season?

"I've given that some thought," Blake said. "When they called, I knew there was going to be an opportunity at third base with Cal gone. Everybody's been saying, `Oh, you can be the guy who replaces Cal,' but they've got some great players here and some nice prospects coming up. I'm just thrilled with the opportunity."

The Orioles signed Tony Batista earlier this summer with the assumption he would take over third base, but it appears the job is up for grabs. Another third baseman could be signed during the winter, or Batista and Blake could vie for the position in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Batista made his sixth start at shortstop last night so Hargrove could keep the infielder's bat in the lineup. Chris Richard is restricted to being the designated hitter because of a sore shoulder and Ripken gets most of the starts at third. Batista is hitting .228, but his 23 homers lead the club. His 78 RBIs rank second to Jeff Conine's 86.

Mercedes returns

Hargrove confirmed that Jose Mercedes will take Josh Towers' turn in the rotation tomorrow night in Boston, part of a four-game series against the Red Sox.

Mercedes, who in the past has stated a preference for starting, said he wasn't concerned about his role. He's more worried about a layoff that dates to Sept. 7, when another loss left him 7-17.

"I'm going more than two weeks without facing anybody," he said. "I will do everything I can to do my job, but it's not an easy situation. It's not going to be easy at all. But I'm not complaining about it."

It didn't appear that Mercedes would make another start for the Orioles after giving up six runs in three innings in Seattle, but he was chosen over left-hander John Bale. Hargrove is concerned about extending Bale and perhaps causing the same forearm stiffness that cropped up earlier this month.

"I don't look at it like they're giving me another chance," Mercedes said. "The way I see it, this is my job, you know? I'm available anytime they need me - in the rotation, out of the rotation. It doesn't matter to me. I'm fine."

Gil steps up

Fernando Lunar came to the Orioles with a reputation as a good catch-and-throw guy. Brook Fordyce was considered a decent hitter who also worked well with pitchers, though his arm wasn't as strong. The club's other catcher, rookie Geronimo Gil, could give the Orioles the best of both worlds - a contributor in the lineup and behind the plate.

Making his third start in four games, Gil is hitting .350 with five RBIs - all of them coming Saturday.

"I think he's a good catch-and-throw guy who can hit," Hargrove said.

Around the horn

Ripken arrived in Baltimore shortly after 3 p.m. after serving as the grand marshal for the MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400, a NASCAR Winston Cup race in Dover, Del. The trip took only 20 minutes by helicopter. ... Hargrove said he doesn't expect David Segui to play again this season because of a left knee that probably will require arthroscopic surgery after the season.

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