O's reassign Bellinger as roster is cut to 33

L. Lopez gains approval of Mazzilli, could stick when team starts season

April 02, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - The Orioles completed the Florida portion of their exhibition schedule last night with their roster down to 33 players after reassigning Clay Bellinger to the minor league camp.

The move should make one player feel a little better about his chances of sticking with the club.

Bellinger and Luis Lopez were competing for a utility job as spring training neared its conclusion.

Bellinger was informed of the move before last night's exhibition game against the New York Mets. Lopez boarded a bus and headed north - though not as far as he would like to be on Opening Night.

Manager Lee Mazzilli wouldn't confirm that Lopez will be on the team for Sunday's game against the Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards, but he gave the veteran infielder a strong endorsement.

"Louie Lopez has done nothing but impress me. I like very much what he can do," Mazzilli said.

"He can swing the bat from both sides of the plate. Usually, when you have a utility player, he's kind of known more defensively than offensively. In his case, he's a guy you can use to hit off the bench."

Before last night, Lopez was batting .435 (10-for-23) with a home run and five RBIs. Bellinger, signed to a minor league contract during the winter, was 6-for-22 with the same number of homers and RBIs.

Mazzilli doesn't anticipate making his last cuts until after tomorrow's final exhibition game in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Eliminate four players who will go on the disabled list - Jerry Hairston, Mark McLemore, Omar Daal and Marty Cordova - and the roster is down to 29. McLemore will be placed on the Triple-A disabled list because he signed a minor league contract.

The Orioles are certain to remove pitchers Darwin Cubillan and Aaron Rakers. Outfielder Darnell McDonald and catcher/first baseman Carlos Mendez also could be headed out the door.

"We have two days to finalize our roster," Mazzilli said, "and in all probability, I'm going to use the two days to get it done."

As more equipment was being hauled out of the clubhouse yesterday and loaded on a truck, Daal walked alone through the parking lot to his car. He drove back to his Weston home, where he'll rest until beginning his initial rehabilitation from arthroscopic surgery.

Dr. James Andrews cleaned some fraying of the left rotator cuff, repaired a slight labrum pull and performed a mild decompression, which involved shaving part of the bone in the shoulder joint. Daal will be placed on the 60-day disabled list and miss at least three months, if not all, of the 2004 season.

Andrews used a stitch to hold down a piece of the labrum after identifying the early signs of a pull, which could have led to a more serious injury. But it also requires that Daal keep the arm immobilized for a longer period of time.

"The MRI didn't show that I had anything, but I know my body. I knew there was something wrong," said Daal, who will visit Andrews again in six weeks. "It wasn't something big, but the little things were bothering me."

Daal said he wants to return this season and complete the final year of his contract, but he can't be sure it will happen.

"They want to see how the rehab will go. I can't predict anything," he said.

Meanwhile, an X-ray on catcher Geronimo Gil's left hand yesterday didn't reveal any damage, and he's expected to report to Sarasota in a few days before joining Triple-A Ottawa.

Gil hit .429 this spring, but the Orioles optioned him because they preferred Keith Osik's defensive skills and handling of pitchers. Given the news Wednesday, Gil crushed an aluminum garbage can with his bat and later informed the team that he had been playing with an injured ring finger.

The Orioles soon will find out if Gil is focused enough to work hard in Sarasota and Ottawa, and perhaps force his way back onto the major league roster.

"I would like to think so. I'm hoping so," Mazzilli said. "I don't want any of my players to be happy about being reassigned. No one takes that well, and that's OK."

NOTE: Steve Melewski, former sports director at WBAL, has been hired as the Aberdeen IronBirds' play-by-play broadcaster for 2004. Melewski will broadcast all 76 games for the short-season affiliate on WAMD Radio (970 AM) in Harford County.

"I can't wait to get started," he said. "The IronBirds are one of the best-run and most successful franchises in all of minor league baseball and it will be great to broadcast for an Orioles minor league club, as well."

The IronBirds begin their third season in the New York-Penn League at Ripken Stadium on June 18.

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