Team can't put finger on Lopez's next start


Split nail not fully healed, but `it feels much better'

April 16, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND - Since Rodrigo Lopez won't throw in the bullpen until tomorrow, the Orioles remain uncertain whether their ace will take his scheduled turn on Saturday.

Lopez split the nail on his right middle finger during the seventh inning of Sunday's game in Boston and had to be replaced. He played catch before last night's game against the Cleveland Indians but won't know how much the nail healed until throwing on the side.

"It feels much better," he said, looking down at his hand. "I'm trying to take the callus off. It looks better, but I haven't grabbed a ball yet. If I can throw in the bullpen Thursday and feel like I can be at 100 percent for Saturday's game, I think I will [pitch]."

The nail split during his previous start, and Lopez used glue to hold it together in Boston. It held until the seventh inning, when he threw a slider and drew blood. He allowed one run before leaving, and an inherited runner scored in the Orioles' 2-0 loss.

Manager Mike Hargrove seemed confident yesterday that Lopez would make his start this weekend. The backup plan might involve Pat Hentgen, who had appeared in only one game before relieving Omar Daal last night after the Orioles starter was ejected in the fifth inning.

Hentgen allowed one hit and one run in 3 2/3 innings, striking out none and walking four.

Bumped from the rotation this spring, Hentgen has been relegated to long relief. He went 4 2/3 innings on April 4 after replacing Sidney Ponson.

"It's been hard, it's been frustrating, but you've got to earn your stripes. I pitched [poorly] in September and I didn't have a good spring training," he said.

"This is the role for a long reliever. You're going to go stretches where you go 10, 15 days without getting in a game. When you get a chance, you have to take advantage of it."

North Dakota faceoff

Only three players currently on a major league baseball roster were born in North Dakota. For the second time this month, two of them will match up in the same game.

Orioles starter Rick Helling, from Devils Lake, is expected to face Indians first baseman Travis Hafner, from Jamestown, tonight at Jacobs Field.

Hafner has been slumping - he was 0-for-27 before receiving a gift double on Sunday, when Kansas City outfielder Dee Brown lost a fly ball in the sun - but the rookie most likely will be included in the lineup.

Hafner went 0-for-3 against Helling in the season's third game, at Camden Yards.

Only 13 players in major league history were born in North Dakota, including Anaheim Angels center fielder Darin Erstad, also from Jamestown.

Only two states have churned out fewer major leaguers: Wyoming (10) and Alaska (eight).

Spring break camp

Ripken Baseball will conduct a three-day spring break camp beginning tomorrow at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen. The sessions, open to kids from age 8 to the eighth grade, will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The cost of the program is $300.

The curriculum of all Ripken Baseball camps and clinics was passed down from Cal Ripken Sr., who played, coached and managed in the Orioles' organization for 37 years.

The spring break camp is the first youth baseball program to be held at Ripken Stadium, a minor league facility that opened in June.

Information: 1-800-486-0850.

IronBirds sales strong

Ripken's Aberdeen IronBirds sold out all 38 home dates in 2002, and the team anticipates a repeat this year. The IronBirds will begin play in the New York-Penn League on June 17 against Brooklyn, the only short-season team to outdraw them.

"Obviously, with an entire year to work with, we're well ahead of last year," said IronBirds general manager Jeff Eiseman. "We anticipate that the 2003 season will be sold out in the near future."

In their inaugural season, the IronBirds finished in the top 15 in merchandise sales among all minor league teams. They'll unveil a new, alternate logo at the end of the month.

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