Riley hopes leg work aids in making strides

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Pitcher has been serious about workouts, looks for healthy year, better results

Baseball

February 16, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - With his gear barely unpacked last week in the Orioles' spring training clubhouse, pitcher Matt Riley ducked inside the weight room and began doing some heavy lifting.

This time, it wasn't the burden of heightened expectations or recovering from major elbow surgery. He was hoisting steel plates, even as he did sit-ups.

To prove how serious he was about conditioning, Riley hired a personal trainer this winter and engaged in workouts that lasted four to five hours, five days a week. His weight increased 10 pounds, but muscle had replaced fat. He has never looked better, and he says he has never felt better.

"I did a lot of leg work, and I can feel it," he said. "It's turned me into an animal. It's got me wanting it even more now."

Riley wants a healthy season, which he said hasn't happened in three years, and better results than the 4-10 record he posted at Double-A Bowie. No longer the top-rated prospect in the organization, Riley said he has made a full recovery from ligament-transplant surgery in September 2000 and has regained the effectiveness and confidence in all his pitches.

His health issues haven't been confined to his elbow. Riley had weakness in his left shoulder last year - with "deadened" nerves that weren't firing to the muscle - but he said that problem also has been corrected. If he were any more optimistic, he would be clearing shelf space for his Cy Young Award instead of preparing for another season in the minors, most likely to begin at Bowie.

"My fastball last year was 87, 88, and I had no break on the ball at all. I'm not used to throwing that way," he said. "This year is definitely the year to judge me. I'm healthy mentally and physically, which wasn't true last year."

Riley said he isn't just throwing as well as 1999, when he went a combined 13-8 with a 3.03 ERA at Single-A Frederick and Bowie, and made his debut with the Orioles at the age of 20. The left-hander said his stuff is better than before the surgery.

"This is my time to shine," he said.

O's rolling ... in arbitration

Without playing a single exhibition game, the Orioles are off to a 5-0 start. They've reached agreements on 2003 contracts with every arbitration-eligible player on their roster, including Melvin Mora, who signed a one-year deal yesterday worth $1.725 million.

Mora's agent, Peter Greenberg, submitted an offer of $2 million last month, and the Orioles countered at $1.425 million. Mora earned $350,000 last season while hitting a career-high 19 homers and starting at five positions.

A season-ending 16-for-111 slump lowered Mora's average to .233. He's projected as a utility player this season because of a crowded outfield and the acquisition of shortstop Deivi Cruz in December.

Matthews to lead off?

While Jerry Hairston remains the favorite to bat leadoff this season, outfielder Gary Matthews will be considered for the job. He has done it numerous times during the winter-league season, and briefly with the Pittsburgh Pirates before they traded him.

"The bottom line is I'm going to hit wherever they need me to hit. It's good to have that as an option instead of talking about coming in and being the fourth or fifth outfielder," he said.

"I just want to get in there and play 162 games. It doesn't matter where you are in the lineup, as long as you're in there."

Matthews should be there after batting .276 with seven homers in 109 games last season. He hit .310 between May 3 and Aug. 10 but went 4-for-40 in his last 11 games with an at-bat.

No invitation for Parrish

One notable absence from camp is pitcher John Parrish, who didn't receive an invitation after being taken off the 40-man roster.

Parrish had three stints with the Orioles in 2001, but he missed last season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during an exhibition game in Fort Myers, Fla. He has been working out at Camden Yards this winter, and last month said he was ahead of schedule in his recovery.

"We're slowing the urgency to rush with everybody," said vice president Mike Flanagan. "Let guys stabilize."

The Orioles also didn't invite Luis Rivera, who hasn't pitched since 2000 because of two surgeries on his right shoulder. Rivera showed up at the past two camps unable to throw.

Stephens update

John Stephens, who made 11 starts last season and became the 17th Australian to reach the majors when the Orioles promoted him on July 29, began running two weeks ago after having surgery on his right foot in October.

Stephens has been throwing with the other pitchers, but the Orioles put him on a personalized running program while he continues to heal. A screw was inserted in the foot, which Stephens said he fractured eight years ago. An X-ray taken last year revealed the break.

In the past, Stephens has experienced mild inflammation that eventually subsided, but he believes the extra running on artificial surfaces in the American League last season aggravated the injury.

"The pain never went away. It just kept getting worse," he said.

Doctors also performed a bone graft in the foot, taking a chip off his heel and inserting it in the fractured area.

"It's slowly coming along," he said. "I should be ready by Opening Day."

With so many veteran candidates for the rotation, plus bids by Sean Douglass and Rick Bauer, he might have to settle for pitching at Triple-A Ottawa until a spot opens.

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