O's sign Hentgen to 2003 contract with option for '04

Team says it saw enough in return from surgery to renegotiate 2003 option


October 30, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The Orioles' pitching plans for next year started taking shape yesterday when Pat Hentgen signed a contract that will keep him in Baltimore next season, with an option for 2004.

The club held a $6 million option for next season, but they chose to use the $600,000 buyout and then renegotiate at a lesser price. Terms were not disclosed.

Hentgen, who turns 34 in two weeks, returned to the mound in September after missing 16 months with an elbow injury. He went 0-4 with a 7.77 ERA, but the club saw enough to invite him back.

"We thought he made tremendous progress," said Orioles vice president for baseball operations Syd Thrift. "We're really looking forward to Pat having a good year next year. We expect him to be back in full form next season. With the leadership he brings, he's a tremendous asset to this team and what we're trying to build."

Hentgen won the Cy Young Award with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1996. The Orioles originally signed him to a $9.6 million deal in December 2000.

He made just nine starts the following year, going 2-3, before tearing a ligament in his right elbow in May. He underwent Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery in August 2001 and spent most of this past season rehabilitating.

Hentgen could have tested the waters as a free agent when the Orioles let him know they weren't willing to pick up his original option. Instead, he chose to give it another try.

"I only pitched nine games [in 2000], and that was very frustrating," Hentgen said. "But it's a beautiful place to play, the city is fantastic, and the organization is great, too. So why pursue other options? I think there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about this team."

Hentgen and shortstop Mike Bordick entered the offseason as the Orioles' top two potential free agents. Bordick, who finished the season with a 110-game errorless streak, was contemplating retirement, but there have been recent indications he wants to return to the Orioles and is waiting to hear their plans.

Thrift has been working on Hentgen's new deal for more than a month. Hentgen said he signed the contract yesterday. An announcement is expected today.

The Orioles expect Hentgen to be part of a starting rotation that also could feature Rodrigo Lopez, Sidney Ponson, Jason Johnson and Scott Erickson. Other candidates include John Stephens, Sean Douglass, Rick Bauer and Travis Driskill.

"This is a big, positive step for 2003," Thrift said.

Hentgen is spending his offseason in Michigan and Florida. Normally, he would wait to resume throwing until January, but because he didn't log as many innings this season - only 22 in four starts - he plans to start throwing next month.

In his final start, Sept. 26 at Toronto, Hentgen had a fastball that reached 88 mph. Pitching coach Mark Wiley and manager Mike Hargrove both said they saw signs that Hentgen was on his way back to full strength. Still, Hentgen was disappointed with his September results.

"It definitely wasn't a confidence booster, by any means," Hentgen said. "But it felt great to be out there, and I think it will help me next year."

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