Lopez to get ball on Opening Day


In second year, he's given honor as `reward' for 2002

March 19, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

VIERA, Fla. - While spots remain open at the back end of the Orioles' rotation, manager Mike Hargrove already has decided who will make the first start of the 2003 season.

Hargrove confirmed yesterday that Rodrigo Lopez, the runner-up in the American League's Rookie of the Year voting, will take the ball on March 31 against the Cleveland Indians at Camden Yards. And after a day off, left-hander Omar Daal is expected to start the second game.

Lopez was the favorite to pitch on Opening Day after going 15-9 as a rookie, and his schedule this spring had him lined up for the start. Hargrove would have made the necessary adjustments if Lopez struggled in camp, but the right-hander has won both decisions while allowing only two runs in 11 innings. Opponents are batting .158 against him.

Hargrove described Lopez's assignment as "a reward for what he did last year."

"He's one of our better pitchers, and we want to get him as many starts as we can."

Lopez remains tied - perhaps unfairly - to former Orioles starter Jose Mercedes, who put together one solid season before reverting to his losing ways and dropping out of sight. Scouts who have watched Lopez insist he's the real deal, with stuff that translates into long-term success. But until he proves otherwise, Lopez will continue to be compared to one-hit wonders.

"We'll find out," Hargrove said. "That's always a concern. That's the beauty of a track record."

Daal's turn falls on the second game, and barring a late change, he'll make the start despite a 6.88 ERA in 17 innings. Hargrove is more patient with finesse pitchers this time of year and praised Daal's effort yesterday in an 11-5 loss to the Montreal Expos. Daal allowed four runs, on a windblown grand slam by Jose Macias, in five innings.

"The way the days are lined up, he's scheduled to start the second game," Hargrove said.

Sidney Ponson is scheduled to start the third game.

Third left-hander unlikely

Final bullpen decisions remain on hold, but it's doubtful the Orioles will keep a third left-handed reliever.

Eric DuBose, Mike Mohler and Todd Rizzo still are in camp, but Bill Pulsipher was reassigned to Sarasota. Mohler gave up five runs in the seventh inning yesterday.

DuBose, a former No. 1 draft pick of Oakland, could stay with the club if Buddy Groom or B.J. Ryan is traded.

"A third lefty, as we sit here right now, is still an option, but I don't know how likely it is," Hargrove said. " ... I don't think it's a very viable option."

Lomasney's last days

Another round of cuts were made Monday, and Steve Lomasney still was in uniform.

Lomasney understands the reality of his situation. At some point before the Orioles head north, he'll be summoned into the manager's office and told to report to Sarasota. Geronimo Gil is the starter, and Brook Fordyce remains the backup. And the Orioles aren't carrying three catchers.

"I just wanted to come in and show them what I have," he said.

Lomasney, 25, spent his entire professional career in the Boston Red Sox organization before the day in November when he signed with the Orioles as a minor-league free agent. Leaving wasn't difficult.

"I just didn't feel any advancement over there," he said.

Lomasney was headed backward, with a demotion from Triple-A Pawtucket coming on April 22 after he went 0-for-25 in his last 10 games. He batted .210 at Double-A Trenton, leaving his average at .233 in 2,260 at-bats.

Chances to play this spring have been scarce. Lomasney has four at-bats, compared with 15 for Double-A catcher Eli Whiteside before he was reassigned to the minor-league camp. Lomasney eventually will join him before going to Triple-A Ottawa or Double-A Bowie.

Wherever Lomasney winds up, he'll probably keep the same nickname. Fordyce often refers to him as "Vin Diesel" because of his resemblance to the actor.

"Some of the guys call me `Triple X,' " Lomasney said. "I've heard it before. It's funny how that follows me along."

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