Lopez, Julio team up on Hinske in AL's rookie race

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

O's pitchers finally get noticed

Batista slumping

July 28, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

BOSTON - Orioles starting pitcher Rodrigo Lopez is starting to get mentioned as a Rookie of the Year candidate, and some of his top competition might come right from his own team.

Orioles closer Jorge Julio is in the running with 19 saves and a tiny 2.09 ERA.

Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Eric Hinske has built a strong case for himself, hitting .288 with 17 home runs, but between Lopez and Julio, the Orioles have a chance at their first Rookie of the Year since Gregg Olson in 1989.

Lopez is 11-3, and his 3.01 ERA ranks among the American League leaders. He tossed eight innings to win his fifth consecutive decision in Friday night's 9-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox. Julio pitched a scoreless ninth, giving him 21 consecutive scoreless appearances.

Afterward, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove fielded a question from a Boston writer about his Rookie of the Year candidates. ESPN also mentioned it on Baseball Tonight.

"It's good to know that other people outside our organization are starting to see these things," Hargrove said. "We've still got a lot of baseball left to play. But so far so good, those two guys have been big for us."

Lopez went 0-3 with an 8.76 ERA in six starts with the San Diego Padres two years ago, but he didn't pitch enough to lose his rookie status. He signed with the Orioles as a six-year minor-league free agent in November, then spent his off-season pitching for the Culiacan Tomato Growers in the Mexican Winter League.

Asked about the Rookie of the Year award, Lopez could only shrug.

"I just want to establish myself in the big leagues, and at the end of this year we'll see what happens," Lopez said. "We've got two months left, and anything can happen. Every day, I'm just trying to give my best effort. The numbers and stats, I think that's secondary.

"If it happens, I'll be so happy. If not, I'll be happy to stay with the team in the majors."

Break time for Batista?

The Orioles played their 100th game last night, and Tony Batista has started every one of them at third base. Batista has actually played 157 consecutive games, dating to last season.

Batista hit .290 in June but dropped to .229 for July (19-for-83) with yesterday's 0-for-3, suggesting he might be getting tired.

"I think I'm fine," he said. "I've been playing a lot the last three years. I don't think I'm tired this year. After you cross those [foul] lines, you can't be tired any more."

Batista hit his 20th home run on July 17 in Toronto, then arrived in the clubhouse the next day with most of his hair buzzed off. He played the next six games without hitting a home run, and teammates kidded him that he had lost all his power with the haircut.

But Batista erased those thoughts when he crushed his 21st home run Friday night, hitting a ball over the 23-foot-high screen that sits above the 37-foot-high Green Monster.

In running for promotion

Chris Richard, who was supposed to come off the disabled list Friday, went 0-for-4 with Rochester on Friday night and ran without any problems with his strained right gluteus muscle. Orioles vice president for baseball operations Syd Thrift said it will still be a few days before Richard is activated.

"I don't want to rush it," Thrift said. "I want to make sure he's really ready to contribute."

Around the bases

The Orioles haven't made it official, but John Stephens will likely be promoted from Triple-A Rochester to make his major league debut as Tuesday's starting pitcher at Tampa Bay. Another choice would have been Sean Douglass, but he is scheduled to pitch today for Rochester. ... After missing 26 games with a right-ankle injury, Larry Bigbie returned from the disabled list at Rochester on Friday and went 1-for-4 with an RBI. ... Boston catcher Jason Varitek increased his career-high hitting streak to 13 games.

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