O's set to give ball to vet

Erickson will pitch in team's opener against Yankees

`He's convinced us all'

Pitcher is 19 months removed from surgery on his right elbow

March 28, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

VIERA, Fla. - What had been assumed for many months, even as the manager danced around the issue with orange-and-black tap shoes, became a firm reality yesterday when Mike Hargrove named his Opening Day starter and aligned the rest of the Orioles' pitching staff.

Another issue is settled, with more resolutions to come in the next few days.

Scott Erickson, now 19 months removed from ligament-transplant surgery in his right elbow, will take both the ball and the challenge of facing six-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens when the Orioles begin the 2002 season Monday against the New York Yankees.

Hargrove said he maintained some flexibility in the decision as recently as last week before committing to Erickson, 34 who will appear in his third career opener. He also handled the honors with the Minnesota Twins in 1992 and 1995.

Matched against the Milwaukee Brewers 10 years go, Erickson didn't receive a decision after allowing two runs in six innings. He took the loss against the Boston Red Sox in 1995, permitting an earned run and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.

While confirming Monday's starter, Hargrove recalled a conversation with Erickson that occurred toward the end of the summer. Often stingy with words, Erickson boldly stated that he'd be pitching on Opening Day - a declaration that was met with some skepticism.

"He said, `You watch, I'm going to be your starter,' and I thought, `Yeah, right.' I thought the chances were real slim, but he's convinced us all," Hargrove said.

Before last night's game against the Florida Marlins, Erickson was 3-0 with a 2.92 ERA in five spring starts. Though he had allowed 35 hits in 24 2/3 innings, he surrendered only eight runs and was tied for the team lead in victories. He had difficulty escaping trouble last night, allowing six runs and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings. "He's got a tremendous sinker, and that's going to be a key for him," catcher Brook Fordyce said. "I think he's only going to get better and stronger.

"You know his work ethic. He's such a workhorse. For him to come back and pitch the way he did, and how he's basically left off where he was healthy, is pretty impressive."

Hargrove had lined up his pitchers this spring so Erickson's turn would fall on Monday, but he also considered Jason Johnson as an alternative until a week ago.

"Scotty just kept doing what he's needed to do and got better every time out," Hargrove said.

Johnson, a 10-game winner in 2001, will follow Erickson on Wednesday as the No. 2 starter after the open date. Sidney Ponson will conclude the series against the Yankees, with Josh Towers facing the Boston Red Sox on April 5.

Erickson will return to face Boston on April 6 before Hargrove uses his fifth starter the next day. Calvin Maduro will be given the assignment if recovered from a strained right forearm. Otherwise, the Orioles will place rookie Rick Bauer on the 25-man roster and allow him to take Maduro's turn.

While maintaining some caution with Erickson, the Orioles haven't babied him this spring. He was the club's first pitcher to go six innings and beyond, with a high of 6 2/3 . He threw 97 pitches last night.

"We're still going to be careful with him but not any more careful than we would be with anybody else," Hargrove said. "We're certainly not going to run him out there and let him throw 130 pitches his first outing and 160 pitches in June. But I don't see where there's any reason to hold your breath every time he throws from the sixth inning or seventh inning on."

Hargrove isn't prepared to reveal his 25-man roster. He indicated that one or two spots are undecided, and that the club most likely will keep three catchers until Maduro comes off the disabled list.

Unless a trade or waiver claim is made before Monday, the only decisions apparently involve choosing Luis Garcia or Ryan McGuire as an extra outfielder and Mike Moriarty or Brian Roberts as a utility infielder.

Hargrove said he has settled on the components of an 11-man staff that will increase once Maduro returns, but he will hold off making it public. He might announce the Opening Day lineup before today's game against the Marlins.

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