Orioles keep eye on trade front, but staying low

Cautious Thrift doesn't `want to undo what we have'

MLB probes brawl

July 30, 2002|By Joe Christensen and Roch Kubatko | Joe Christensen and Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - With an eye on tomorrow's 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline, Orioles vice president for baseball operations Syd Thrift continues to field calls, but he doesn't expect to make a major deal, "or even a minor deal," he said yesterday.

"I think the teams that are already set are established with their positions," Thrift said. "And teams that are in our position don't want to undo what we have. For example, if we decided to trade a pitcher, we'd be out looking for a pitcher this winter."

Teams have asked the Orioles about starting pitchers Sidney Ponson, Jason Johnson and Scott Erickson. Thrift has maintained the position that he would need to be overwhelmed to move one of those three.

Industry sources have said the two other Orioles who would draw the most interest on the trade market are left-handed reliever Buddy Groom and first baseman Jeff Conine, but the Orioles have locked them up to multi-year contract extensions.

Thrift is still listening, but he would like to keep this team intact. He compared the Orioles' situation to the Minnesota Twins of a few years ago, when players such as Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones were still trying to prove they were everyday big-league players. The Twins are leading the American League Central by 14 games.

"You have to give them a chance to grow and develop," Thrift said.

There has been speculation around baseball that August will still be a busy trading month as teams allow a higher number of players to pass through waivers. That theory suggests teams will be more reluctant to block each other's moves out of fear of getting stuck with a big contract with baseball's labor situation so unsettled.

Asked if this might apply to the Orioles, Thrift said, "I truly don't know."

Investigation heats up

With potential suspensions looming from Sunday's benches-clearing brawl between the Orioles and Red Sox, the commissioner's office began its investigation yesterday.

Bob Watson, baseball's new disciplinary czar, started studying videotape, reading the umpires' report and conducting interviews. One of his phone calls yesterday was to Orioles manager Mike Hargrove.

"He just wanted to know what I felt led up to it," Hargrove said. "We didn't discuss names."

Major League Baseball spokesman Patrick Courtney said Watson will have a decision regarding possible suspensions by the middle of the week.

Hentgen: Time's up

The calendar that injured pitcher Pat Hentgen is using to chart his rehabilitation from ligament-transplant surgery runs out in two days. The last entry instructs him to begin a minor-league assignment.

Hentgen has said all along that he'll pitch for the Orioles this season. Given his way, he'll soon report to one of the club's affiliates and later join the Orioles' 12-man staff.

A critical test comes this morning, when Hentgen is scheduled to throw a six-inning simulated game at the minor-league complex in Sarasota, Fla. Each inning will consist of 15 pitches, with Hentgen resting for three minutes.

Hargrove and pitching coach Mark Wiley will be in attendance.

Hargrove indicated yesterday that Hentgen is drawing closer to a rehab assignment and could be added to the roster in September. Hentgen had surgery on Aug. 9 after only nine starts with the Orioles, who hold an option on his contract for 2003. They decided against having Erickson pitch last season after he underwent the same medical procedure in August 2000, but Hentgen is pushing for an earlier return.

"I'm just trying to follow the program the best I can," said Hentgen, who's on the 60-day disabled list. "[But] I definitely want to play again."

Pitching every fifth day in Sarasota, Hentgen has gone two, three, four and five innings since accelerating his rehab and boasts of using all his pitches. His command improved in his last outing.

Hentgen's velocity remains down, with his fastball averaging 85 mph rather than 89-90. "They told me not to worry. Sometimes that can be the last thing that comes," he said.

Richard going deep

Chris Richard hit his fifth homer in 12 games at Triple-A Rochester on Sunday, and the Orioles could activate him from an injury rehab assignment within the next few days.

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