Orioles cut seven as Cust is sent to Triple-A Ottawa

Acquisition from Rockies will get at-bats in minors

Surhoff likely on roster

Cust: `It was disappointing'

Team also ships Matos and DuBose to Triple-A

March 26, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The Orioles made seven cuts yesterday, sending out a young slugger to receive more at-bats in the minors and a pitcher to get reacquainted with the starting rotation.

Jack Cust, obtained from the Colorado Rockies two weeks ago, was optioned to Triple-A Ottawa along with left-hander Eric DuBose and outfielder Luis Matos. A reliever last season and during five weeks of spring training, DuBose will be used as a starter with the Lynx.

Pitchers Darwin Cubillan and Mike Garcia, catcher Izzy Molina and infielder Eddy Garabito, all nonroster invitees, were reassigned to the minor-league camp in Sarasota, Fla.

The decision on Cust, who appeared in 35 games with the Rockies last season, further cemented B.J. Surhoff's place on the Opening Day roster. Both players are left-handed corner outfielders with power. Surhoff is a proven major-league commodity. Cust, 24, is a work in progress.

"They just want me to go down, play hard and improve my game," said Cust, a former No. 1 draft pick who was 4-for-17 after coming to the Orioles for outfielder Chris Richard. "It was disappointing, but it's not like I've dominated Triple-A, so I'll go down there and dominate and come back up."

Cust has been an All-Star at every level of the minors since breaking in as a professional in 1997. He has hit 116 homers and drawn 520 walks in 618 games but also struck out 706 times. The Orioles are intrigued by his power and on-base percentages each season, but they also want him to take fewer pitches - Cust laments how he's not a bad-ball hitter - and make better contact.

"There are certain things we'd like to see him work on, but there are a lot of things we really like about this kid," said manager Mike Hargrove. "We feel this kid can hit for high average and hit for power. We'd like to see him cut his strikeouts down. He obviously has a good eye at the plate, but he has a tendency to look for that one pitch that he can really hit out of the ballpark. And consequentially, he had a lot of one-swing strikeouts. He has to be a little more aggressive."

With David Segui's fractured right thumb in a removable cast, an injury that could keep him out of the lineup through April, the Orioles need a No. 3 hitter who can drive in runs. Surhoff might inherit that role, with Cust still not ready for such a responsibility.

In his last game, Cust went 0-for-4 as the designated hitter in Monday's 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers, Fla. Batting with the bases loaded and none out in the fourth inning, he worked the count full before striking out.

Asked yesterday if he received a fair chance to make the club, Cust said: "I don't think it was really a matter of showing what I can do. I think they already had it in their minds what was going to happen, unless I really did something unbelievable to change their minds."

DuBose posted a 4.50 ERA in eight innings this spring, with all of his appearances coming out of the bullpen. A starter when chosen by the Oakland Athletics in the first round of the 1997 draft, he has pitched exclusively in relief since 2000, including 46 combined appearances last year with Double-A Bowie, Triple-A Rochester and the Orioles.

"I'm going to try my hand at starting again," he said. "This sort of gives me a little bit of new life. I'm comfortable starting. I've done it most of my career, so I'm excited about that."

Matos will join a deep Triple-A outfield that also should include Cust and former No. 1 draft picks Larry Bigbie and Darnell McDonald. Bigbie remains in camp and has an outside chance at making the Orioles' roster, but some club officials want him playing every day.

At least Matos made it through camp without having surgery. His past two seasons were mostly wasted because of a dislocated shoulder and a broken hamate bone.

"That was one of the jokes in here," he said. "They were saying I passed my first spring training."

Matos hasn't gotten more than 300 at-bats at one level of the farm system since 1998 at Single-A Delmarva. He received 500 combined at Single-A Frederick and Bowie in 1999.

"They told me I'll be in the big leagues soon. I need to get at-bats in case something happens," he said. "This is my last year with options, so I want this to be my last year in the minors."

The Orioles still have 34 players in camp, including Scott Erickson, who won't pitch this season after having shoulder surgery. Hargrove said he might take the entire team to Shea Stadium for the last exhibition game on Saturday before making final cuts. Rosters must be turned into the commissioner's office by midnight Saturday.

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