Doctor clears Matos to play

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

He could return today

Mazzilli fine with Julio

Tejada eager to go

Baseball

March 13, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

VIERA, Fla. - The Orioles finally got some injury news yesterday that didn't make them wince.

Center fielder Luis Matos was cleared to play after team physician Dr. Chick Silberstein studied the results of a bone scan Matos had undergone on his lower right leg.

Silberstein diagnosed Matos with a superficial stress fracture, which means there is a tiny crack there, but it's on the outside of the tibia.

"You're talking millimeters," Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie said. "And it's just on the outside of the bone, not going through the bone or anything like that. So there's no chance you can injure it further."

Matos, who hasn't played since the first exhibition game March 4, could return to the lineup today when the Orioles play the New York Mets at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. Manager Lee Mazzilli plans to ease Matos back gradually, using him as the designated hitter before sending him back to center field.

The Orioles will restrict Matos from running and other conditioning exercises that put torque on the legs, but he has full clearance to play in games. At night, he will use a bone stimulator machine to help complete the healing process.

Matos, 25, has been playing catch and taking batting practice for the past few days and hasn't reported any pain.

Bullpen roles

Jorge Julio's ninth-inning meltdown against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday did nothing to change Mazzilli's mind about the closer role. That job is Julio's Mazzilli said, plain and simple.

"The kid had 36 saves last year, and the team lost 91 games," Mazzilli said. "I know he lost a couple of saves, but it really doesn't enter my mind."

Julio entered with a 10-3 lead on Thursday, and the Red Sox rallied for five runs. Mazzilli had to pull Julio and insert Aaron Rakers to preserve a 10-8 victory.

Mazzilli said Julio's mechanics were off, but he was throwing the ball 96 mph. If Julio were to really struggle, Mazzilli would have the option of turning to Mike DeJean, who converted 27 of 30 opportunities for the Milwaukee Brewers two years ago.

For now, Mazzilli said he plans to use DeJean as his primary right-handed setup man and B.J. Ryan as his primary left-handed setup man. A year ago, former Orioles manger Mike Hargrove used Ryan primarily against left-handed hitters, but Mazzilli has spoken with Ryan about facing both lefties and righties in crucial situations.

"We're looking for him in that role, and we'll see how he handles that," Mazzilli said. "He needs to have the mentality that he can do that."

Tejada itching to play

The Orioles were also feeling relief about shortstop Miguel Tejada's injury status after watching him limp off the field Thursday with leg cramps. Mazzilli said Tejada asked if he could play in yesterday's game, which would have meant a three-hour bus ride from Fort Lauderdale to Viera.

Mazzilli told him to stay back, but Tejada will probably be back in the lineup today. Tejada has at least one hit in all six of his games this spring, including two home runs.

"The only problem with him is I've got to pull the reigns in a little bit," Mazzilli said. "But, he's a winner. He's got the team pumped. He's always talking about winning to the young guys."

Around the horn

Former Orioles third baseman Tony Batista was not in uniform for the Montreal Expos yesterday because he has chickenpox and has been quarantined from the team. ... Tim Raines Jr., had another big game against the Montreal Expos yesterday, going 3-for-5 with two RBIs and finishing just a triple shy of a cycle. Once again, it was a fine showing in front of his father, Tim Raines Sr., who will be managing the Expos' Single-A affiliate here in Brevard County this season.

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