Given choice, Lopez takes off mask for a game as O's DH

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Catcher to need days off as weather warms

call-up of pitcher Bautista likely

May 24, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. - When he was catching for the Atlanta Braves, Javy Lopez used to get a break every five games because Greg Maddux preferred to pitch to the backup catcher.

With no designated hitter in the National League, the Braves had to play those games without a big bat in their lineup, but it kept Lopez fresher for late in the season.

In his first two months with the Orioles, Lopez has seen his workload increase somewhat. Yesterday, Lopez served as the DH, marking the sixth time in the first 40 games that he was not the starting catcher.

Playing a day game after Saturday night's 3-2 loss, and with a day off today, Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli left it up to Lopez to decide, and Lopez picked the DH role.

But overall Lopez, 33, said he's holding up fine.

"Once I catch every day, with no rest, my body gets used to it," Lopez said. "It's hard because your body can take so much. Thank God, it hasn't been hot yet, but definitely once the summer comes and it starts getting hot, I'm going to be honest with [Mazzilli] when he asks me if I want a day off."

Lopez continues to produce offensively. Despite going 0-for-5 yesterday, he's still hitting .323 with six home runs and 22 RBIs. After setting a major league record for a catcher with 43 home runs last year, Lopez is on pace for just 24 this season., but he hit a ball to the center-field warning track in the fifth inning yesterday, just missing a three-run shot.

"I'm not as consistent as I want to be," said Lopez, who hit .358 in April but is hitting .284 in May. "Hopefully that's my slump."

The Orioles are 0-6 in games when backup catcher Keith Osik starts behind the plate. He went 0-for-3 yesterday, lowering his average to .080.

Bautista on his way?

The Orioles pulled right-hander Denny Bautista from his start at Double-A Bowie yesterday after 2 2/3 scoreless innings. Doc Rodgers, the team's minor league director, said Bautista is "100 percent healthy," and declined to comment on why Bautista left the game.

Orioles vice president Jim Beattie also wouldn't comment, but Bautista is likely headed for a promotion, either to Triple-A Ottawa or more likely to the big leagues. With Mike DeJean struggling with a 7.90 ERA, the club could be looking to shore up its right-handed relief options.

DuBose pushed back

After a day off today, the Orioles will use Erik Bedard, Rodrigo Lopez and Sidney Ponson in their three-game series against the New York Yankees this week at Camden Yards. The Yankees will counter in the series with Jon Lieber, Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown.

Orioles starter Eric DuBose, who held Anaheim to one run in seven innings Friday night, will have his next start pushed back into next weekend's series at Detroit. Mazzilli said he wanted to keep Ponson on his regular rest.

Ponson has pitched back-to-back complete games, and he is scheduled to face the Yankees in his next two starts.

Roberts gets a breather

Using Lopez as his DH, Mazzilli had room for only one second baseman, and he decided to give Brian Roberts a day off. Jerry Hairston played second and hit leadoff for the second time this season, going 0-for-5.

Roberts is riding a 4-for-45 slump that has lowered his average from .333 to .262. "I think he needs a day off," Mazzilli said.

Riley targets return

Matt Riley's left shoulder feels strong again, and he's eager to return from the disabled list tomorrow, when he's eligible, but he's prepared for the other scenarios, as well.

The Orioles could send him on a minor league rehabilitation assignment, they could put him back in the bullpen, and they could option him to Ottawa to build up his innings again as a starter.

"I don't know what the plan is," Riley said. "Obviously I want to be up here, but they're going to do what's best for the team. If they do decide to send me to Ottawa, I'm just going to work hard and try get back here."

Around the horn

Angels rookie first baseman Casey Kotchman has yet to strike out in 46 plate appearances, which is the longest streak to open a big league career since Bob Bailor went 51 plate appearances without a whiff, starting in 1975 with the Orioles and stretching to 1977 with the Toronto Blue Jays. ... Former Oriole Jason Johnson is scheduled to face the Orioles on Friday in Detroit. He is 2-0 in his past two starts but 3-5 with a 5.57 ERA overall.

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