Reboulet's aching leg improves, but hitting remains a sore spot

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

.133 average is no help to veteran's utility bid

O's due to make 7 cuts today

March 25, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Jeff Reboulet soaked in the whirlpool that's outside the shower area in the Orioles' clubhouse as players arrived for a recent workout and exhibition game. Hitting coach Terry Crowley leaned on an equipment trunk as he held a long conversation with the veteran infielder.

The moment provided a clear snapshot of Reboulet's spring training. He sought the hot water treatment for an aching left leg, and he wanted a consultation with Crowley to assist in ending his slump.

Still fighting for a utility job, Reboulet is batting .133 in 19 games after bouncing to the mound yesterday in his only plate appearance. He has been dealing with a pulled groin muscle since the second intrasquad game, and by compensating for it, other muscles in the leg have become sore.

"It's been a constant battle, but it's getting a lot better than it was," he said. "I don't use that as an excuse. It's good enough to play defense and hit."

Reboulet needs to be that good. He's scuffling at a time when manager Mike Hargrove is deciding on his bench players. Once seen as being in direct competition with John Valentin, Reboulet could join him on the roster now that David Segui's broken thumb has cleared a spot.

"That's something I can't control, so I try not to think about it," said Reboulet, who also fouled a ball off his left shin during the third exhibition game and still has traces of a bruise. "I haven't hit well at all. That's first and foremost in my mind. I've played pretty good `D,' but offensively I just haven't gotten my swing back yet. It's getting closer, but it's been a wicked struggle mentally."

Crowley and Reboulet have determined that the problems mostly are "a timing thing."

"We've kind of got it figured out," Reboulet said.

If Reboulet stays with the team for a second tour of duty, it will be because of his ability to field the ball and move around the infield. Valentin would be expected to provide the late-inning thunder off the bench.

"If you're asking for a DH, I'm not a DH," Reboulet said. "If you're asking for somebody to catch the ball in the infield, I'm your guy. But I'm a lot better offensively than I've shown. I'm a contact guy. I don't strike out much. But I've struck out a lot this spring [nine times in 28 at-bats].

"It's just one of those deals where you're going through a stretch where you're not playing well offensively, and it just so happens that it's right in spring training when I need [to hit]."

Hentgen steps up

With time running out on Pat Hentgen's bid to make the rotation, he held the Minnesota Twins to one run over six innings yesterday in a 4-3 victory at Hammond Stadium. His ERA dropped from 8.36 to 6.30, with the only run scoring on a fielder's choice grounder after the first two batters singled in the fifth.

He struck out five, once blowing a high fastball past Cristian Guzman to end the third and getting Torii Hunter with a changeup - the pitch that gave Hentgen so much trouble last September - to end the fifth. In his previous Grapefruit League game on March 14, Hentgen allowed five runs in five innings in a 7-5 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. He pitched at the minor-league complex on Wednesday, permitting one run in six innings in a Triple-A game.

A key adjustment was made while pitching from the stretch. Hentgen used a higher leg kick to slow his delivery and keep the ball down.

Hargrove still won't tip his hand regarding Hentgen and Rick Helling, who are competing for one rotation spot barring a late trade. Helling's next turn falls on Friday against the New York Mets in Fort Lauderdale, with Hentgen's turn coming the next night at Shea Stadium. Helling could be held back until Saturday, which would indicate that he made the rotation.

"I signed here three seasons ago and blew my elbow out in May, and this organization has been nothing but outstanding to me," Hentgen said. "I'll do whatever they want me to do. I work for them. I feel like I'm healthy now and I can win games."

Hargrove also won't commit to the order of his rotation beyond Opening Day starter Rodrigo Lopez. Omar Daal is lined up to pitch the second game on April 2 after throwing on Sunday at the minor-league complex, but Hargrove hasn't made the left-hander's assignment official. Sidney Ponson, who faces the Cardinals today, is lined up for the fourth game, so his schedule would have to be adjusted to start any sooner.

On cutting-room floor

The Orioles are expected to make seven cuts today, which could include three position players.

Infielders Eddy Garabito and Jose Leon, catchers Izzy Molina and Steve Lomasney, and outfielders Luis Matos, Larry Bigbie and Jack Cust remain in camp.

Among the pitchers still with the Orioles, Travis Driskill, Eric DuBose, Mike Mohler, Darwin Cubillan, Mike Garcia and Todd Rizzo are the likeliest candidates to eventually be sent to the minor-league complex.

Though he has been used as a reliever, DuBose likely would be a starter at Triple-A Ottawa. According to an Orioles official, other potential starters for the Lynx include Driskill, Sean Douglass, John Stephens, Mike Drumright and left-hander John Parrish.

Matt Riley and former No. 1 draft pick Mike Paradis most likely will return to Double-A Bowie.

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