No longer on edge, Stephens is able to get into routine

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Rookie makes third start with O's today vs. Tigers

August 11, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

DETROIT - The butterflies started churning in John Stephens' stomach as soon as the Orioles notified him he'd be making his major-league debut.

For the next five nights, he had trouble sleeping, and by the time he took the mound July 30 at Tampa Bay, he was a bundle of nerves. The 22-year-old, who had been dominant for Triple-A Rochester, gave up nine runs in three innings against the lowly Devil Rays.

Stephens reflected on that yesterday, as he prepared to make his third major-league start today against the Detroit Tigers. An injury to Sidney Ponson has given Stephens a chance to extend his stay with the Orioles, even though he is 0-1 with a 13.00 ERA.

"Now, I just come to the field, and it's like a regular day, like it would be in the minors," Stephens said. "I think the size of the stadium, the crowd, I don't know that I've gotten used to it, but I've kind of adjusted to it."

Despite his hefty ERA, Stephens has shown the Orioles enough to warrant an extended stay. In his first start, he retired the final three Tampa Bay hitters before Mike Hargrove pulled him from the game.

And after giving up four runs in the first two innings against Toronto last Sunday, Stephens held the Blue Jays scoreless for the next four innings. Though no one is happy about Ponson's injury, Hargrove said it will allow Stephens to make at least two more starts.

"I'm kind of excited about that," Hargrove said. "I think he has a chance to be a very good pitcher, but he needs a chance to settle in, and hopefully that's what we're giving him right now."

Stephens went 11-5 with a 3.03 ERA for Rochester, showing that pitchers can have success even if their fastball averages about 82 mph. With a vast array of off-speed pitches and pinpoint control, Stephens has all the necessary tools to be successful, Hargrove said.

Orioles pitching coach Mark Wiley usually lets his pitchers use the routine that made them successful at the minor-league level. But Stephens likes to complete his warm-up tosses about 10 minutes before game time, even when the Orioles hit first on the road, and Wiley said he might try to have him move that back a bit.

But there will be no drastic changes this time.

"The last four innings of his last game, he was fine," Wiley said. "He looked exactly as his reports from the minor leagues said he'd look."

Aggressive Trebelhorn

The job of third base coach is a bit like umpiring. The only time people take notice is when things go wrong. Orioles third base coach Tom Trebelhorn has an aggressive style that has led to several runs, but he is most often recognized when one of his runners gets thrown out at home plate.

On Friday night, Trebelhorn had Melvin Mora try to score on a shallow fly to left field by Gary Matthews. Tigers left fielder Bobby Higginson made a perfect throw, and Mora was out by four steps.

"Treb, by nature, is a very aggressive person, and he certainly is not afraid to take risks," Hargrove said. "I think to be a good third base coach, that's an essential trait. He's also a very knowledgeable baseball person, an extremely hard worker, and he has enough enthusiasm for about 15 people.

"Treb's good. When you see Jerry Hairston scoring from second base on a close play at first base - and that's happened about three or four times this year to help us win ballgames - Treb's the one who has set that up."

Hentgen solid again

Pat Hentgen allowed one run in five innings for Single-A Delmarva last night in his second minor-league rehabilitation start. Hentgen, who had Tommy John surgery last August, threw 70 pitches, held Augusta to four hits, striking out four, walking one and hitting a batter.

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