Shaken Ainsworth sent to Triple-A

R. Lopez to replace him after 16 runs in 2 starts

Orioles

May 16, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Coming off another bad outing that left his confidence shaken, Orioles pitcher Kurt Ainsworth was optioned to Triple-A Ottawa before last night's game in the latest shakeup of the team's struggling rotation.

Manager Lee Mazzilli indicated that Rodrigo Lopez will replace Ainsworth, though he wasn't sure when the right-hander would make his first start of 2004.

Reliever Darwin Cubillan, 31, had his contract purchased from Ottawa, and he arrived yesterday at Camden Yards during batting practice. As the Lynx's closer, Cubillan was 0-1 with a 4.02 ERA and eight saves in 15 2/3 innings. He came on in the fourth inning last night and pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings.

Ainsworth, 25, was shelled again Friday, allowing nine runs in 1 1/3 innings to leave his ERA at 9.68. He gave up 16 runs in his past two starts covering six innings, and was winless in seven appearances this season .

"He needs to get his stuff together," Mazzilli said of the former Giant who was a part of last summer's Sidney Ponson trade. "He's got too good of an arm. He's got a future here and we just need for him to work it out."

Standing at his locker after Friday's 10-9, 10-inning loss to Anaheim, Ainsworth said he was in "one of those ruts" and had to win back his teammates' trust.

"He needs to gain the trust in himself and his self-confidence," Mazzilli said. "That's the most valuable thing you can have as an athlete, to believe in yourself.

" ... He has such a good arm, he needs to find a way that's going to make him successful. And I told him that. I said, `Your destiny is in your hands. Do what you need to do.' And he understood. It was very constructive."

Lopez, last year's Opening Day starter, was the logical choice to replace Ainsworth. He's allowed only one run - charged to him after he left an April 27 game vs. Seattle - in 27 1/3 innings.

"I have some options for next week and I will talk to him," Mazzilli said. "I would think that's pretty self-explanatory, but I don't know when and where."

The Orioles chose Erik Bedard over Lopez for the fifth starter's job coming out of spring training. Lopez won 15 games in 2002 but slipped to 7-10 last year.

He's been a bullpen savior for the Orioles as their starters repeatedly fail to pitch deep into games. Once considered too valuable to move, he'll get another chance to be a starter.

"A 0.33 ERA from a guy who was a No. 1 guy last year to putting him in the bullpen, and the job he did without putting his tail between his legs ... he went out there like a man and showed me a lot of character and professionalism," Mazzilli said. "I told him in spring training that this wasn't written in stone. I said, `I just think you're going to make us a better ballclub,' and he did."

Lopez will stay in the bullpen tomorrow before joining the rotation later this week.

"It's pretty exciting," he said. "I'm very proud of myself. This was one of my main goals and now I'm back, and I'll have to be better than I was."

Cubillan, who had appeared in 49 major league games with Toronto, Texas and Montreal (most recently in 2001), wasn't on the 40-man roster, but the Orioles were one player below the limit and didn't need to make a corresponding move.

Signed as a minor league free agent in November 2002, he registered 20 saves last summer despite not becoming the Lynx's closer until late June.

"I could use him for two or three innings. I could use him for one hitter. I have a lot of options with him," Mazzilli said.

"This bullpen has done such a phenomenal job to keep us where we're at. I think our starters are going to rebound."

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