O's might set sights on G. Vaughn

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Team in need of power

D. Rays release slugger

Baseball

March 23, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

JUPITER, Fla. -- The Orioles are still looking for a power hitter, and their ears perked up a bit yesterday when they heard the Tampa Bay Devil Rays had released former 50-home run hitter Greg Vaughn.

Vaughn is making $9.25 million this season, and that salary all but assures he will pass through waivers, which will give the Orioles a chance to sign him next week for much less as a free agent.

The Orioles already have a logjam in left field, with B.J. Surhoff, Marty Cordova, Larry Bigbie and Jack Cust. But two club officials said they will at least consider making a run at Vaughn because of his history of hitting home runs.

Vaughn had 50 home runs for the San Diego Padres in 1998, but since then, his home run totals have been 45, 28, 24 and eight. He missed 63 games last season with a right shoulder contusion and his average dipped to a miserable .163. In 14 games with Tampa Bay this spring, Vaughn hit .217.

Vaughn, who turns 38 in July, told the Associated Press he was relieved with the Devil Rays' decision yesterday, and the Orioles can't help but wonder if he's another player in need of a change of scenery. When the Devil Rays released Vinny Castilla in 2001, he went on to hit 23 home runs in 122 games for Houston.

The Devil Rays will put Vaughn through waivers for the purpose of his unconditional release starting tomorrow. For the next two days, teams can claim him, but to do so, they would have to pay his entire salary.

Assuming Vaughn clears waivers, Tampa Bay will pay most of that $9.25 million. If the Orioles would sign him for $500,000, for example, the Devil Rays would then be responsible for the other $8.75 million.

Johnson in rotation

Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said Jason Johnson has earned the fourth or fifth spot in the starting rotation, leaving Rick Helling and Pat Hentgen to compete for the last spot.

Before yesterday, those three pitchers were competing for the final two spots. Johnson set himself apart by posting a 3.27 ERA in his first three spring appearances, but that ERA jumped to 6.19 yesterday.

The Florida Marlins scored six first-inning runs off Johnson. He faced six batters without recording a single out, before settling down to finish five innings.

"Before this game, I felt like I was ready to start the season today," Johnson said.

Afterward, Hargrove couched his pre-game comment a bit, saying, "As of now, he's in the starting rotation."

Lawsuit date targeted

Kiley Bechler's attorney, David Meiselman, has indicated he will probably wait until late April before filing his much-anticipated lawsuit seeking damages for her husband's death.

Steve Bechler, a 23-year-old Orioles pitching prospect, collapsed on a practice field Feb. 16 and died the next morning of heatstroke. Autopsy results confirmed Bechler had taken the over-the-counter dietary supplement Xenadrine RFA-1 before his collapse. Last month, Meiselman said Kiley Bechler planned to sue Cytodyne Technologies, the maker of Xenadrine RFA-1.

Driskill getting squeezed

Travis Driskill won eight games last season, giving him more than all but one Orioles pitcher (Rodrigo Lopez had 15).

This spring, Driskill has posted a 2.00 ERA, but it still looks like he'll start the season at Triple-A Ottawa. "Travis may be a numbers victim," Hargrove said. "It depends on how our rotation breaks."

Around the horn

Buck Martinez, the Orioles' new television analyst, was in Jupiter yesterday getting prepared to work today's game against the Montreal Expos for Comcast SportsNet. Martinez will be in the booth with Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer today and Wednesday, with lead play-by-play man Michael Reghi scheduled to join them once the regular season begins. ... The Orioles' media guides arrived yesterday with Eddie Murray on the cover, honoring his upcoming induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Sun staff writer Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.

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