No one stepping up at back of rotation

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Hentgen struggles again as he, Helling, Johnson vie for final two spots

March 15, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

JUPITER, Fla. - With three established starters vying for the final two spots in the Orioles' pitching rotation, manager Mike Hargrove's decision would be a lot easier if one of them could piece together a string of dominant outings.

So far it hasn't happened.

Pat Hentgen had his fourth chance yesterday, against the St. Louis Cardinals, and before he knew it, a terrific start turned ugly. The Cardinals managed just one hit through the first three innings, but then Hentgen took a line drive off his pitching hand and wound up giving up six runs (five earned) in five innings, leaving his ERA at 8.36.

Hentgen still finds himself in a dogfight with Rick Helling (4.26 ERA) and Jason Johnson (3.60), whose numbers don't include a strong performance Tuesday in a Triple-A game in Sarasota, Fla.

"Obviously I'm concerned about results, but it's spring training," Hentgen said. "I'm not going to get all flustered and worried about it. I've been pitching too long to let that negative inning [the Cardinals' four-run fourth] bother my other three positive innings."

Hentgen reached out his right hand to stop a liner from Miguel Cairo to start the fourth inning but remained in the game. Hentgen said the ball hit him in the fatty part of the right thumb and had no effect on him, even if the scorebook said otherwise.

"I think it was coincidental," he said. "I was getting the ball up."

Hentgen, 34, who had elbow ligament-replacement surgery in August 2000, insists the elbow feels strong. His fastball could reach 90 mph when he won the Cy Young Award for Toronto in 1996, and yesterday it was clocked between 85 and 87.

Omar Daal, a soft-tossing lefty who is considered a lock to make the starting rotation, has posted a 6.75 ERA, but Hargrove said he isn't losing patience.

He said it will likely take until the end of spring camp to set the rotation, and barring a trade, the odd-man out between Helling, Hentgen and Johnson might be headed for the bullpen.

"When you've got finesse pitchers, you can't make quick decisions," Hargrove said. "You really have to let it run its course."

O's pass on Lofton

Before Kenny Lofton signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates yesterday, his agent spoke with the Orioles to see if they were interested. With Gary Matthews to play center field and Jerry Hairston to bat leadoff, the Orioles passed.

They also wound up passing on veteran left-hander Kenny Rogers, who signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Minnesota Twins this week. By signing Rogers, the Twins won't have to move Johan Santana to the starting rotation, diminishing their need to trade for a left-handed reliever, such as the Orioles' B.J. Ryan.

With incentives, Lofton's new deal pays him up to $1.5 million and Rogers' deal pays him up to $2.5 million.

Turning back the clock

In 1944, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the St. Louis Browns in the World Series. The Browns, of course, moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles 10 years later.

The two teams will finally meet again this season, when the Orioles travel to St. Louis for a three-game interleague series, June 6-8. To commemorate the 1944 Series, the Orioles will wear the Browns' uniforms and the Cardinals will wear their old uniforms, circa 1944.

Around the horn

Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie flew north to scout Adam Loewen, the team's No. 1 draft pick last year. Loewen, a left-handed pitcher, is playing for Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Fla. The Orioles still hold his rights but will only have a one-week window to sign him after his season before he re-enters the draft. ... The Orioles will hold their annual Tag Day today at Camden Yards from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., allowing fans to see which ticket locations are available for full-season and mini plans.

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