With DuBose, O's have lot left to trade

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Reliever's strong spring makes Ryan expendable

O's lineup full of regulars

Orioles notebook

Baseball

March 09, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Every spring, baseball teams look for one player to emerge as a surprise. Last year for the Orioles, it was Rodrigo Lopez. This year, it could be left-handed reliever Eric DuBose, and that development could be beneficial when it's time to make a trade.

DuBose was supposed to throw two innings of relief yesterday against the Minnesota Twins, and he did so well, the Orioles sent him back for a third inning.

Michael Cuddyer hit the go-ahead home run that inning for Minnesota, but it was another impressive performance for DuBose: three innings pitched, two hits, one run and two strikeouts.

The Orioles had to love it that DuBose fared so well against the Twins, who announced yesterday that former University of Maryland left-hander Eric Milton will miss at least half the season with a knee injury.

Minnesota is officially in the market for a left-hander, and the Orioles trotted out three of them yesterday in Omar Daal, DuBose and B.J. Ryan. The Twins will probably look for an inexpensive left-handed reliever to fill the void with Johan Santana moving into the starting rotation.

Ryan has been a trade target before, but the Orioles were always leery of leaving Buddy Groom as the only left-hander in the bullpen. Now Ryan, 27, and DuBose, 26, are distinct trade options.

Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie said he spoke with Twins general manager Terry Ryan recently, but nothing came of it. The Orioles have also spoken with the New York Mets, with Pedro Astacio headed to the disabled list, and the San Diego Padres, who may have lost closer Trevor Hoffman for the season.

For now, Beattie said, these teams are trying to find out whether they have enough in-house talent to cover the injuries.

The Twins are loaded with up-and-coming hitting prospects, but there's very little chance they will part with Cuddyer, Dustan Mohr, Bobby Kielty or Michael Restovich. The Orioles would have a more realistic shot at Lew Ford or Michael Ryan, two others turning heads this spring on their way back down to the minors.

Barring any trades, it will be difficult for DuBose to crack the Opening Day roster. Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said he plans to keep 12 pitchers, but long-relief duties will likely go to Jason Johnson, Pat Hentgen or Rick Helling - depending on which one of those three doesn't make the starting rotation.

But if the Orioles do trade a starter, as expected, DuBose might get the chance to continue mirroring what Lopez did last year. It's quite a story, considering that DuBose was a first-round draft choice with Oakland in 1997 but never reached the big leagues until last season because of arm injuries.

"He's shown us the ability to be able to match up against left-handers," Hargrove said, "and to give you three or four innings."

Real Orioles show up

The Orioles made the two-hour drive across Alligator Alley from Fort Lauderdale to Fort Myers and fielded a potential Opening Day starting lineup: Jerry Hairston 2b, Gary Matthews cf, David Segui dh, Jeff Conine 1b, Jay Gibbons rf, Tony Batista 3b, Marty Cordova lf, Deivi Cruz ss, Geronimo Gil c.

Asked whether it was an Opening Day preview, Hargrove scanned his lineup card for a moment and said, "Could be."

Hargrove said yesterday's lineup came together by chance, with the need to get his regulars some at-bats.

Still, it was a sharp contrast to the lineups other teams have been bringing to Fort Lauderdale Stadium this spring. Baseball has a mandate requiring teams to use at least four non-pitching regulars in their lineup for exhibition games, but Orioles opponents have been flouting that rule, probably because Fort Lauderdale is so far from every other spring training site.

The Twins came last week without Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Corey Koskie, Doug Mientkiewicz, Cristian Guzman, Luis Rivas and A.J. Pierzynski.

The Los Angeles Dodgers came without Paul Lo Duca, Fred McGriff, Cesar Izturis, Adrian Beltre, Brian Jordan and Shawn Green. Neither of those teams had split-squad games that day.

No more ambiguity

Daal was unhappy last season with the Dodgers when they bounced him between the starting rotation and the bullpen. He said he signed with the Orioles as a free agent this winter, in part, because he knew he could be a part of the starting rotation, without the uncertainty.

Even with a logjam that could send one established starter to the bullpen, Hargrove has not mentioned Daal as a relief candidate.

"The fact he's a little versatile and can pitch out of the 'pen is attractive, but we look at him as a starter," Hargrove said. "I'm sure it's entered people's minds [Daal's ability to relieve], but we haven't discussed it."

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