Mazzilli sees the bright side

Orioles notebook

Team endures 4th rainout, but postponement buys extra day for J. Lopez

May 03, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- Waiting for the charter flight that would return his team to Baltimore yesterday, manager Lee Mazzilli tried to find a silver lining in the latest rainout. He has had lots of practice with all the dark clouds that follow the Orioles this season.

For the fourth time in 26 scheduled games, the Orioles were idle because of the weather. They'll come back to Cleveland on June 14, which was supposed to be an open date before beginning a six-day trip to Los Angeles and Colorado.

The Orioles endured three postponements last month, including two straight in Boston. They lost an open date May 31 and must play a day-night doubleheader July 22 at Fenway Park. They also have a doubleheader against Seattle on Aug. 3 at Camden Yards because of an April 26 postponement.

And this doesn't include the delays and soggy conditions that made for uncomfortable nights on the field.

"It's a nuisance. We're kind of roughed up a little bit, but what are you going to do? You've got to make the best of it," Mazzilli said.

"I don't remember having this many rainouts all last year, but there's nothing you can really do about it."

By not playing yesterday, the Orioles bought an extra day for catcher Javy Lopez, who wasn't in the lineup again because of a strained oblique muscle in his right side. He sat out the series, and the team missed his bat in the fifth hole.

"He changes the lineup, no question," Mazzilli said. "You don't realize it until you lose someone like that, what it does, but you've got to be able to mix and match."

Luis Matos failed twice in extra innings to score a runner from third base with one out in Saturday's 3-2, 13-inning loss to the Indians. He did, however, hit a home run Friday in an 11-2 defeat.

B.J. Surhoff would have batted fifth yesterday against right-hander Jake Westbrook. The Orioles faced left-handed starters the first two games, which elevated Matos in the order.

Lopez, who's batting .358 with three homers and 14 RBIs, is expected to play tonight when the Orioles begin a three-game series against the Chicago White Sox. Rain is forecast again, threatening to bring another postponement that would wipe out Thursday's open date.

"He said he might be able to go [tonight], but that's a tricky thing right there," Mazzilli said. "You want to be 100 percent because that could be something that could be three weeks and take you right out."

Mazzilli said no consideration has been given to putting Lopez on the disabled list or adding a third catcher through another roster move. Keith Osik, who's 2-for-18, was the only available catcher this weekend.

"I feel like we're close," Mazzilli said. "If I think it's something that's going to be a week or 10 days, obviously you've got to make that move. But I don't foresee that."

Lopez said the pain has lessened, but he's hesitant to risk a long-term injury.

"I can go in there and play, but I have to be careful," he said. "It's a long season and I look forward to September, so I have to take it easy now."

Mystery catcher

Mazzilli won't reveal the name of his emergency catcher to the media because the player hasn't been told. Surhoff is the educated guess because he began his major league career at the position, but he hasn't gone behind the plate since 1995.

Utility infielder Luis Lopez is one of the most versatile players on the roster, but he has never caught.

Though Mazzilli called having one available catcher "a bump in the road," it almost became a mountain Saturday after Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel fielded Osik's grounder in the hole in the third inning and made a high throw to first.

Trying to avoid the tag, Osik went into a late slide at first and jammed his right leg into the bag -- a technique seldom used in instructional videos. But he stayed in the game.

Bullpen gets some relief

Yesterday's rainout also gave the relievers a chance to rest after Mazzilli used three of them Saturday to cover the last 7 1/3 innings.

The bullpen has thrown 91 innings, most in the American League, while posting a 2.87 ERA that ranks second. "They could use a day off," Mazzilli said.

Matt Riley will pitch in relief after his turn was skipped because of the weather. His next start might not come until May 15.

Thrift retires

Syd Thrift, the former Orioles vice president for baseball operations who oversaw the deconstruction of the roster in July 2000 through a series of waiver-deadline trades, announced his retirement yesterday after nearly 50 years in baseball.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays hired Thrift as a consultant in February 2003 after the Orioles declined to renew his contract.

In a statement released by the Devil Rays, general manager Chuck LaMar said: "All of us across major league baseball involved in scouting and player development owe Syd a debt of gratitude for his creative thinking and innovative ideas and for his dedication toward the advancement of our profession."

Thrift was hired by the Orioles in 1995 as their director of player development, and later spent three seasons as vice president for baseball operations. He also worked in baseball operations for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs.

Though he kept a low profile with the Devil Rays, Thrift was criticized in the St. Petersburg media last week for recommending that the team acquire Jason Romano to provide middle infield depth. Romano struggled at second base and said he hadn't taken ground balls since 2003. He was put on waivers and claimed by the Cincinnati Reds.

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