With 3 catchers for 2 spots, O's don't mask trade hopes

Orioles notebook

Fordyce-Lunar-Gil race for No. 1 too close to call

no setbacks for Hentgen

March 18, 2002|By Joe Christensen and Roch Kubatko | Joe Christensen and Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Feeling they have three qualified catchers for two spots on the big-league roster, the Orioles have been exploring their trade options.

Brook Fordyce, Geronimo Gil and Fernando Lunar have been competing for the catching duties this spring, and Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said yesterday he still hasn't picked a No. 1 option, even in his own mind.

"I don't know," Hargrove said. "I thought I did a week ago, and now I'm not sure. And that's good. I don't know because guys are making good cases for themselves."

Hargrove has said he will likely carry two catchers, not three, on the 25-man roster.

Fordyce has limited trade value because he is in the second year of a three-year, $7.7 million contract and batted .209 last season. That leaves Gil and Lunar as the most likely trade options, and baseball sources say the Orioles have been telling teams they would rather trade Lunar than Gil.

Lunar, 24, served as the personal catcher for Atlanta Braves pitcher Greg Maddux in 2000 and is considered the Orioles' best defensive option. But scouts think Gil, 26, has the potential to blossom into a better all-around player.

Gil still has a minor-league option remaining on his contract, but Lunar doesn't. So the Orioles must either keep Lunar on the big-league roster or place him on waivers.

"We'll trade anybody if it helps us," Orioles vice president for baseball operations Syd Thrift said. "At least six teams like our catchers."

One potential suitor is the Cleveland Indians, who recently lost backup catcher Eddie Taubensee for at least two months with herniated discs in his back.

The Indians have Einar Diaz as their starting catcher and are looking for a backup who can play about 40 games this season.

Their best in-house candidate is Josh Bard, who has limited experience beyond Double-A.

"Josh Bard has played so well [this spring], I don't feel a sense of urgency to do something now," said Indians general manager Mark Shapiro. "We can wait and examine all of our alternatives."

Hentgen determined

Determined to pitch this season rather than waiting until 2003, Orioles right-hander Pat Hentgen continues to plow through a rehabilitation and throwing program without experiencing any setbacks from his elbow surgery.

While the Orioles were preparing for their game yesterday, Hentgen was completing 50 throws, broken down into two sets of 25 each, from 90 feet. He also threw from that distance Friday.

Hentgen will repeat the session at least once more before doing two sets from 90 feet and another from 120. "So far, it's felt good," he said.

Hentgen, who had ligament-transplant surgery in his right elbow on Aug. 9, has thrown 15 times this spring, "which is weird," he said, "because normally I throw 15 to 20 times before I get here."

Progress for Hentgen can be measured in a variety of ways, including the distance of his intended target. His first throws of the spring came from 45 feet.

"I think 120 is the maximum," he said. "Then, it's the mound."

Hentgen points to a schedule so precise he's already slated to pitch a six-inning minor-league game on July 29, with the first week in August marked for his return.

"Right around Aug. 5 if all goes well," Hentgen said before taking hold of a small medicine ball in the clubhouse and aiming at a miniature trampoline, part of a strength and dexterity exercise.

Erickson scare

Scott Erickson wasn't going more than six innings yesterday, so he picked the right time to get hit.

A line drive from Texas' Herbert Perry nailed Erickson on the right leg, leaving him in obvious pain as he retrieved the ball and got the final out at first base.

Erickson ran directly through the dugout tunnel into the clubhouse, with pitching coach Mark Wiley and trainer Richie Bancells in hot pursuit.

"He's all right," Hargrove said. "That was his last inning anyway."

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