W. Roberts trying to accept new role

Orioles notebook

Reliever says right things, but likes setup, closing

Stephens among 4 cuts

March 18, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - For Willis Roberts, being an Oriole has meant getting the chance to start and to close and to be the primary right-handed setup man. It has meant accepting change, which he'll do again this season.

After the Orioles signed reliever Kerry Ligtenberg as a free agent, they envisioned his taking over Roberts' old responsibilities. Ligtenberg would pitch the eighth inning, his reliable hands carrying leads to closer Jorge Julio. Roberts would enter games earlier, dabbling in middle relief and working the seventh.

Though insisting he'll be satisfied with any job, as long as it's in the majors, Roberts said: "I like being the setup man and closing."

Those opportunities probably won't come often unless Julio or Ligtenberg is injured or ineffective for prolonged stretches.

Asked about his role this season, Roberts said: "I don't know what it's going to be. I don't think too much about that. I'm working hard and staying ready. Whatever role I'm doing, it doesn't matter. I want to help out the team, no matter what the situation is."

Pitching exclusively out of the bullpen last season, Roberts appeared in 66 games and posted a 3.36 ERA. It was 1.96 before he allowed runs in eight of his last 19 outings beginning July 29.

Whether going good or bad, Roberts exhibited the same demonstrative nature on the mound. He crouched, flexed, pumped his fist. He would give up a run-scoring single, then celebrate a strikeout. He did more posing than a swimsuit model.

"That's just me. I don't want any problems with nobody," he said. "I'm working on that, keeping my emotions down. I want to keep my concentration more."

Manager Mike Hargrove said he hasn't addressed the issue with Roberts this spring, "but we talked to him about it last year a number of times."

Except for the occasional yell, Roberts has been more under control this spring. "That's OK, as long as his back is to everybody," Hargrove said. "You like for people to be aggressive and emotional."

Especially if it doesn't instigate a brawl or disrupt his mechanics. "Sometimes my delivery gets a little bit quick," Roberts said, "and when he goes to the mound, he says, `Hey, take it easy, take your time.'

"I know sometimes the hitters don't like me, but I'm just doing my job."

Even as it changes from year to year.

Catcher, 3 pitchers cut

The Orioles cut four players yesterday and sent injured pitcher Erik Bedard to their minor-league camp in Sarasota, Fla.

Pitcher John Stephens was optioned to Triple-A Ottawa after making only two appearances this spring. Pitchers Bill Pulsipher and Mike Drumright and catcher Carlos Mendez were reassigned as nonroster invitees.

Stephens' availability was limited after surgery in October to repair his fractured right foot. He also pulled his right groin muscle during drills, and received treatment for a sore right knee. Stephens wasn't expected to make the club after going 2-5 with a 6.09 ERA in 12 games as a rookie, but his health never let him make a serious bid.

"We think he's a viable candidate in case we need somebody during the season," Hargrove said. "It's a matter of us not having innings for him to get ready for the start of the season."

Though he threw only four innings, Stephens used the time to show a more effective cut fastball than during last year's call-up, when fatigue reduced the pitch's effectiveness.

"That's the biggest difference I've seen. He's got the cutter back," Hargrove said. "That's very important, because it keeps left-handers off him and makes his fastball seem a little faster. We saw some good things out of John here that kind of opened our eyes again."

Pulsipher went 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA in 3 1/3 innings. The Orioles are taking longer looks at two other left-handed relievers, Eric DuBose and Mike Mohler.

Mendez batted .324 last year at Triple-A Sacramento, but he received only four at-bats this spring. Drumright allowed three runs in four innings.

Bedard will continue rehabbing his left elbow after having ligament-transplant surgery in September.

The cuts leave the Orioles with 42 players in camp.

Hunter's father dies

Jim Hunter Sr., father of WBAL Radio play-by-play announcer Jim Hunter, died Sunday night after suffering a heart attack at his home in New Jersey. He was 72.

Hunter Sr. worked for 40 years as a producer-director for WPIX-TV in New York, where he was involved in the station's broadcasts of Yankees games.

A funeral Mass will be held Thursday at St. Benedict's Catholic Church in Holmdel, N.J.

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