In catch-up mode, Fordyce returns


Recovered from infection, catcher makes first start

March 06, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - It took until the seventh game of the Orioles' exhibition schedule for Brook Fordyce to get his name into the scorebook.

Now he's ready to turn the page on his health mystery.

Fordyce went 0-for-2 and was hit by a pitch as the starting catcher in yesterday's 10-6 victory over the Boston Red Sox. He wasn't cleared to play during the first week because of an infection that caused the glands in his throat to swell.

"That was the only symptom I had," said Fordyce, who hit into a double play with the bases loaded and none out, and popped to first. "It started off as a sinus infection. That's all I know. It just went away."

Fordyce began taking antibiotics Friday, "and by late Saturday, the swelling had gone down," he said. The Orioles sent him to a doctor twice, most recently Tuesday, and manager Mike Hargrove scratched him from Sunday's lineup against the Montreal Expos after Fordyce accompanied the team to Viera.

"That made sense," he said, "because I hadn't played in a couple days and they wanted to make sure I had three days on the antibiotics."

Fordyce will play catch-up behind the plate. Hargrove already named Geronimo Gil the starter, but he wants to use Fordyce more often this season - assuming that Fordyce makes the team in the final year of his contract.

"I took BP yesterday and worked out yesterday and the day before," Fordyce said. "How many games would I have had by now? Probably four or five at-bats? If you want to make a season like that, then I'm not much of an athlete. It happened, and I'm healthy now. I'll get enough at-bats."

As far as health scares go, this one doesn't even register on Fordyce's scale. Two weeks before reporting to Fort Lauderdale last spring, Fordyce almost died after passing out in his bathroom during the night and losing five pints of blood. The artery ruptured between his esophagus and stomach, and he had to wait for the results of a biopsy to find out he didn't have cancer.

"It can't be any worse than what I went through last year," he said. "I lost 30 pounds and wasn't doing well at all."

Not until the exhibition games started. Fordyce batted .381 with three homers and nine RBIs - one more than his regular-season total. Hargrove chose Gil as his Opening Day starter, however, because he had a better chance of throwing out base stealers.

"Physically, I'm in shape," Fordyce said. "I just have to get back out there and compete."

Etchebarren's new job

The sweeping changes made in the Orioles' minor-league system in the offseason pushed Andy Etchebarren out of the manager's chair at Triple-A. He seems to have landed on his feet.

Etchebarren reported last week to the minor-league complex in Sarasota, where he'll assume his new duties as roving catching instructor. He spent the past two seasons in Rochester, where his clubs posted the worst Triple-A records in baseball. The Orioles have a new affiliate in Ottawa, which will be guided by Gary Allenson.

"When I sit back and look at it right now, at first I was a little disappointed. There's no doubt about that," said Etchebarren, the Orioles' bench coach for two seasons under Davey Johnson before managing at Rookie-level Bluefield, Single-A Frederick, Double-A Bowie and Rochester.

"The more I thought about it, I like teaching, and the thing I probably teach best is catching. Managing will wear you down. In the minor leagues, you have to play with 23 players, not 25. It's a lot more difficult, especially when you get guys hurt. And the Triple-A level is even tougher because when guys get hurt at the big-league level, they replace those players with Triple-A players. And when your guy is disabled, you don't get a player back. We've had to go into Double-A or Single-A to replace them, and it was tough.

"In a way, I'm sitting back and I'm relaxed. I'm not going to have to go through all the things a Triple-A manager goes through. I'm not saying I didn't like it. I enjoyed managing and the players, but it's probably good for me this year to be doing what I'm doing."

Etchebarren, a major-league catcher for 15 seasons, won't commit to his new job beyond 2003.

"I'm going to see how I feel about it," he said, "and see if it satisfied me enough."

Cordova's fine leather

He doesn't have a hit in seven at-bats, but left fielder Marty Cordova made the best defensive play of the spring yesterday.

With two outs in the first inning, Cordova raced into left-center field and made a diving catch, with his body fully extended, to rob Todd Walker of at least a double. Walker stood halfway between first and second, hands on his hips, and waited for Cordova to pass before giving him a playful swat on the back. Walker and Cordova were teammates with the Minnesota Twins.

The next inning, Cordova chased a fly ball from Jason Varitek into the left-field corner and reached out for the catch before slamming into the fence. Kevin Millar, who led off with a double, retreated to second base.

Cordova also got his first RBI yesterday, but it came from being hit on the right calf with the bases loaded and none out. Cordova left the game when the muscle began to tighten.

First cuts made

The Orioles made their first cuts yesterday. Pitchers Rendy Espina, Rafael Pina, Fernando Rijo and Juan Rosario, all invited as nonroster players, were reassigned to the minor-league camp in Sarasota.

Pina was granted his release so he can play in Mexico.

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