In changeup, Surhoff to get start

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Manager rethinks lineup, will open with vet in left

Julio OK after line drive

Opening Day

March 31, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

After a long period of uncertainty over his starting lineup for Opening Day, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove has decided to put B.J. Surhoff in left field and use Marty Cordova as the designated hitter for today's game against the Cleveland Indians at Camden Yards.

Hargrove was so close to keeping Surhoff on the bench that he told reporters during yesterday's morning workout that he would probably give Melvin Mora the start in left field. "That's the direction I'm leaning," he said.

A few minutes later, as he posted the lineup on the magnetic board outside his office, Hargrove attached Surhoff's name to the third spot in the order and placed Mora among his four reserves.

"It's something I've looked at a lot and talked to my baseball people about," Hargrove said. "B.J.'s swung the bat well for us this spring, and he's a veteran hitter."

Without Surhoff in the lineup, Gary Matthews would have dropped from second to third.

"I don't think Gary's ready for that right now," Hargrove said. "I like Gary hitting second and he's swung the bat well hitting second. I don't want to move him out of that spot. And the last three times that B.J. has faced left-handed pitching, he's hit the ball hard off them."

Surhoff didn't know that he was starting until approached by a reporter. He checked on his position in the field and in the order, conceding that he needed to begin glancing at the board on his way to the clubhouse.

"I think everybody wants to play Opening Day," Surhoff said. "It's one of those days that doesn't mean anything in the long run, but it's nice to be in there for the opener and get acclimated and hopefully do something. Too much emphasis is usually put on it, but I'm sure it will be a nice thing for me."

Julio OK after line drive

Jorge Julio didn't report any problems after being hit above the right elbow by a line drive during Saturday's exhibition game at Shea Stadium. He received nothing more serious than a scare.

Motioning that the ball grazed his arm, Julio said, "It felt like a burn, like it was on fire, but it's OK. It didn't affect my throwing."

Sidney Ponson's bruised left ankle is a bigger mystery. He was scheduled to pitch yesterday at the minor league complex in Sarasota, Fla., after a magnetic resonance imaging test didn't reveal any damage.

Asked how the bruise occurred, Hargrove said, "I have no idea."

The discoloration runs along the edge of Ponson's foot, from the small toe to the heel, and extends above the ankle.

"He said it felt fine when he threw on the side," Hargrove said. "He changed shoes, got up to walk off, and it was hurting, though not bad. And it just got progressively worse."

Brief flight with O's

Nobody is picking the Indians to win the American League Central this season after making sweeping changes to the roster. They appear to have lost significant ground to the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox, a concession to the rebuilding process.

The Indians will have two rookies in their rotation, including Wednesday's starter, Ricardo Rodriguez, and two in the lineup. They'll also have a few players with thin ties to the Orioles.

Karim Garcia will play right field and bat fifth today, two spots ahead of third baseman Casey Blake. They were Orioles for brief spells - Garcia in 2000 and Blake in 2001. Tim Laker, a reserve catcher in 1997, is backing up Indians starter Josh Bard.

Blake's time with the Orioles was short and forgettable, but his name appears on the lineup card for Cal Ripken's final game. He rejoined the Twins last year and spent most of the summer at Triple-A Edmonton before the Indians signed him as a six-year free agent.

Former second baseman Ricky Gutierrez was supposed to play third this season, but he's on the disabled list after having neck surgery. Blake won the job in spring training after batting .441 with two homers and 12 RBIs.

"I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to get the chance to be somebody's starter," he said. "Nobody was going to say, `Hey, this guy has pretty solid numbers in Triple-A, let's give him a job.' I knew that was never going to happen. I knew I'd have to go into a spring where there was a wide-open chance at third base, and I'd have a great spring. And that happened."

Close to home

Hargrove is approaching his 30th Opening Day as a player, coach and manager. Each one holds its own significance.

"They're always special. If you can't get up for Opening Day, then you don't have a heart," he said. "It's as special now as when I was a player in Texas [in 1974] opening up there."

The war in Iraq continues to put today's events in perspective. That's especially true for Hargrove, whose niece, Katy Nicole, is serving in the Army in Kuwait.

"You certainly look at what our men and women are doing in the military, and it makes you realize how insignificant what you're doing really is in the grand scheme of things. But I think that we provide a certain kind of rest area or safe area for people to go," he said.

Katy Nicole phoned Hargrove last night from Kuwait to wish him luck on the season. The call almost left him speechless.

"We want to do what we can as a group or as individuals," he said, "to be able to honor our people who are doing some things that are absolutely terribly dangerous and absolutely terribly necessary."

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