Daal gives signal for left-hand O's turn

Shot to fill void in rotation brings ex-Dodger here

January 04, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Once he became a free agent in search of a job, Omar Daal scanned the Orioles' rotation and noticed the same omission that club officials were hoping to correct. It was no coincidence that he provided the solution.

"I knew they needed a left-handed pitcher," he said.

Daal has followed shortstop Deivi Cruz on the Orioles' list of free-agent acquisitions. He agreed to a two-year, $7.5 million contract Thursday and met with the media yesterday before taking his physical.

"It's not the exact order we would have liked to have done it," said Mike Flanagan, vice president of baseball operations.

With Daal's examination considered a mere formality, Flanagan could focus on a different order: how his five starters would stack up for the 2003 season. Rodrigo Lopez has the inside track on the Opening Day assignment after winning 15 games as a rookie. Daal could squeeze into the second slot, and won't be lower than third while the Orioles sort through the other candidates.

"He'll be somewhere near the top of the rotation," Flanagan said. "I think it will have a lot to do with matching up with certain clubs."

The Orioles are better equipped to do so with Daal, 30, their first full-time left-handed starter since Jimmy Key in 1998. Every start last season was made by a right-hander.

"That was one of the wishes of [manager] Mike Hargrove and his staff, to have a left-hander, so when Omar became available, we did a lot of homework, research, phone calls," Flanagan said. "We're pleased to have him. It gives us a rotation with an average age of about 30. It's going to be a very experienced staff, so we're very proud of that. He's a great fit.

"He does all the things we like. He's a pitcher, not a thrower. He holds runners extremely well. He's very difficult to run on, and he's a great fielder. And he can swing the bat a little bit, so who knows?"

Flanagan said Daal's acquisition doesn't necessarily force the club to trade another starter, though Lopez, Pat Hentgen, Scott Erickson, Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson already filled the rotation. Sean Douglass, Rick Bauer and John Stephens also will bid for starting jobs this spring.

"Our goal was to strengthen the pitching," Flanagan said. "I just don't think you can have enough. You don't know what's going to happen in the future, so when we had a chance to add Omar, we did. As far as anything down the road, it probably does give us a little more flexibility, but that wasn't the intention."

Daal's experience in the American League has been limited to interleague games and nine appearances with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1997. He embraces the designated hitter rule, which will allow him to remain in close games in the late innings instead of being lifted for a pinch hitter.

"I always want to pitch nine innings, but in the National League, sometimes it's so hard," he said.

Daal went 11-9 with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, improving his career record to 64-67 with a 4.40 ERA. He allowed 142 hits in 161 1/3 innings, struck out 105 and walked 54. He held opponents to two earned runs or fewer in 14 of his 22 starts, and walked two batters or fewer in 16 starts.

"We were looking for someone who could get you into the seventh inning pretty consistently, and Omar has certainly done that. Many starters average a little over five or six," Flanagan said. "Omar on a per-start basis gets you into the seventh, and that was another of the criteria we were looking for. If you look at his innings, he's very consistent. He's able to stay healthy. You pretty much know what you're going to get every time out."

Said Daal: "When I became a free agent, I told my agent I was pretty sure I wanted to go to Baltimore. It worked out pretty good. Here I am. I look forward to starting the season and doing my best for the team."

Daal made 23 starts among his 39 appearances last season. He pitched mostly in relief until the Arizona Diamondbacks selected him in the 1997 expansion draft.

"It's kind of hard to be a reliever, then a starter, then go back to the bullpen," he said. "I know what I can do as a starter. That's why I chose to come here, because I knew I had a good opportunity to be a starter."

Signing with the Orioles also provides a convenience for Daal, whose offseason home in Weston, Fla., is near the club's spring training site in Fort Lauderdale. He lives a few miles from Jeff Conine.

"I've got a lot of friends here," he said.

Being left-handed has made him even more popular.

NOTE: Jim Beattie, the Orioles' executive vice president of baseball operations, spoke yesterday with Jeff Moorad, the agent for free-agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez. Moorad didn't make a counteroffer, but it was the first time the two sides had spoken since he rejected the Orioles' three-year offer believed to be worth more than $15 million on Dec. 18.

"They're still sort of in a waiting mode," Flanagan said last night. "Contact was made, and I guess it's kind of where it was."

Rodriguez, a 10-time All-Star and a 10-time Gold Glove Award winner, has threatened to play in Japan if he doesn't find an acceptable major-league deal.

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