Questions & Answers

April 02, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,Sun Staff

Is Sidney Ponson a legitimate No. 1 starter?

He had ace-like numbers -- 14-6 with a 3.77 ERA with 100 strikeouts over 148 innings -- when the Orioles traded him to the San Francisco Giants at last year's non-waiver trade deadline. The Orioles re-signed him with a three-year, $22.5 million contract this offseason, so now the expectations are greater. The starting rotation is so inexperienced behind Ponson, the Orioles are going to need him to be their horse. Compounding the challenge, he'll face tougher pitching matchups. He entered last season as the No. 4 starter, so he rarely had to pitch opposite another team's ace. Ponson's first test this year comes Opening Night against the Boston Red Sox's Pedro Martinez.

Can the young pitchers hold up in the rotation?

Besides Ponson, the Orioles will enter the season with four starters who have never pitched a full season in the big leagues: Eric DuBose, Kurt Ainsworth, Matt Riley and Erik Bedard. With Omar Daal likely out for most of the season with a left shoulder injury, the Orioles also don't have the luxury of experienced depth. DuBose, Ainsworth, Riley and Bedard all have a history of arm problems, so their durability is a major question mark. The Orioles decided it wasn't worth parting with one of their young hitters -- namely Jay Gibbons -- to add a proven starter to add to this rotation. So, it's imperative for these young pitchers to come through.

Can Melvin Mora provide stability at third base?

The man of many positions has finally been given one to call his own. Mora hasn't played third base for a full season since 1994, when he was at Single-A Osceola (Fla.) in the Houston Astros' system. Early in spring training, Mora looked shaky at third base, prompting at least one opposing scout to call third base a serious concern for the Orioles. But by mid-March, Mora seemed to find his comfort zone there. Sam Perlozzo, the team's bench coach and infield guru, said Mora looks fine going to his left or his right to field ground balls. But it's the hard smashes hit right at him that were causing the most trouble.

Can Javy Lopez put up the same numbers in the American League?

Lopez, 33, put up career highs last season when he hit .328 with 43 home runs and 109 RBIs for the Atlanta Braves. After spending his whole career with the Braves, Lopez will have some adjustments to make in the American League, but even if his production slips, the Orioles have reason for optimism. In the National League, on days when he didn't catch Greg Maddux, Lopez was stuck on the bench. In the AL, he can take a day off from catching and still work as the designated hitter. Last year, he hit all those home runs in just 457 at-bats. This year, he could go to the plate about 100 more times.

What kind of manager will Lee Mazzilli be?

During spring training, Mazzilli made a positive impression on his players with his energy and communication skills. It wasn't exactly a night-and-day difference from the Mike Hargrove era, but players definitely noticed, and they love the way Mazzilli has pushed them to believe they can compete. But beyond the basic lineup and starting rotation decisions he has made, Mazzilli hasn't really been tested yet. He has yet to make critical in-game decisions, he has yet to face the media's second-guessing and he has yet to weather a five-game losing streak as a big league manager.

Who will be the second baseman once Jerry Hairston gets healthy?

Hairston and Brian Roberts have grown used to this controversy, which has been with them for more than two seasons. Mazzilli came to camp saying the job was open. Hairston broke his finger on a headfirst slide into third base in the first exhibition game and could be out until mid-May. The Orioles probably would have traded one of these two this spring if it weren't for the injury, but it also re-enforced the importance of depth. Look for Hairston to reassume the starting role when he comes back, with Roberts moving into a utility role with occasional designated hitter duty.

Can Luis Matos make it through a 162-game season without injury?

Matos has missed parts of the past three spring camps with injuries. This year, he was out for 10 days with shinsplints in his right leg. The diagnosis was a superficial stress fracture and he was cleared to play, but the Orioles will be monitoring him closely because outfield depth is a concern. If Matos gets injured, left fielder Larry Bigbie could move to center field and the team would probably have to promote Tim Raines from Triple-A Ottawa to start every day. For now, the backup outfield options are B.J. Surhoff and Jack Cust.

Will Mike DeJean replace Jorge Julio as the closer?

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