Secret out: Maduro in O's rotation

Hargrove options Bauer, Douglass to clarify starting five

`Kind of foregone conclusion'

Erickson seen filling Hentgen role

minors full of good arms, too

March 20, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The Orioles' pitching rotation came into clearer focus yesterday, as manager Mike Hargrove made it all but official that his starting five will be Scott Erickson, Jason Johnson, Sidney Ponson, Josh Towers and Calvin Maduro.

The only real question has been Maduro, and even that was no mystery.

Maduro has pitched 12 innings this spring. He has allowed one run.

"I don't think there's any secret Calvin Maduro has done everything to win the fifth spot in the rotation," Hargrove said. "It's kind of been a foregone conclusion for a while. We're going to wait to make that announcement official, but Calvin's done a good job."

The Orioles had been staging a competition for the fifth spot, with Rick Bauer and Sean Douglass in camp to challenge Maduro. But that ended yesterday, when they optioned Bauer and Douglass to Triple-A Rochester.

In other cuts, the Orioles optioned reliever Kris Foster to Rochester, shortstop Ed Rogers to Single-A Frederick, and they reassigned infielder Howie Clark to minor-league camp.

Those five moves left their spring roster at 42 players.

Erickson, 19 months removed from reconstructive elbow surgery, is scheduled to start Opening Day against the New York Yankees, April 1 at Camden Yards. At age 34, Erickson is also the oldest pitcher in the rotation by six years, with the next oldest being Johnson, at age 28.

"I think with Scotty being back, it really gives us another veteran like we had with Pat [Hentgen] last year to start the season," Orioles pitching coach Mark Wiley said. "I think that's big, because those guys have the type of work ethic and competitiveness that our other pitchers need to see."

Hentgen, 33, had the same Tommy John procedure as Erickson and is hoping to return to the rotation by August. The Orioles will miss Hentgen's mound presence, but his absence provides more opportunities for their young pitchers.

Bauer, 25, posted a 2.57 ERA this spring. Douglass, 22, had a 3.27 ERA. And left-hander Erik Bedard, 23, is still in camp with a 2.25 ERA.

"They all have great stuff," Hargrove said. "They all should pitch in the big leagues and pitch for a long time and be successful. Obviously their experience level isn't what you'd like for it to be, and they need to pitch."

Hargrove said he debated keeping Bauer or Douglass in a long-relief role, but he would rather have them pitch every five days at Rochester. The Orioles' remaining long-relief candidates are Rodrigo Lopez and Chris Brock.

That role might not sound important now, but as the injury-laden Orioles learned last season, it has a lot of potential. Besides losing Hentgen, the Orioles finished the final five weeks without Ponson, who had tendinitis in his right forearm.

Maduro, 27, made the team last spring as a long reliever and finished the season in the starting rotation. In 12 starts, he went 5-4 with a 4.57 ERA.

"Calvin finished last year as arguably our best pitcher," Wiley said. "And he picked up right where he left off this spring."

Maduro still wasn't celebrating yesterday, saying: "There's two more weeks to go, so nothing is concrete yet."

But he did stop to analyze the Orioles' rotation as a whole.

Erickson, Johnson and Ponson are all hard throwers, while Towers and Maduro rely more on control and finesse. The latter two combined to walk just 52 batters in 237 innings last season.

"If we all stay healthy, every single guy has the potential to throw at least 200 innings," Maduro said. "We've got guys who've done it before, Sidney and Scotty, and J.J. [Johnson] had 196 last year."

The Orioles have won 10 of their past 12 exhibition games, and they owe much of their success to the pitching staff. In fact, all five of their starters have been solid in Grapefruit League play.

Erickson is 2-0 with a 2.50 ERA.

Johnson is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA.

Ponson is 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA.

Towers is 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA.

Maduro is 0-0 with a 0.75 ERA.

Soon, the Orioles will find out how that success translates into the regular season.

2002 starters

Scott Erickson

2001: Injured

Career: 135-116,

4.43 ERA

Jason Johnson

2001: 10-12,

4.09 ERA

Career: 21-34,

5.29 ERA

Sidney Ponson

2001: 5-10,

4.94 ERA

Career: 34-44,

4.90 ERA

Josh Towers

2001: 8-10,

4.49 ERA

Career: 8-10,

4.49 ERA

Calvin Maduro

2001: 5-6,

4.23 ERA

Career: 8-14,

5.84 ERA

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