After drawing months of criticism about his playing weight from the general public, along with the wrath of Orioles owner Peter Angelos, Sidney Ponson finally decided to do something about it.
Ponson said he has dropped 16 pounds since the start of spring training, including 10 in the past month. He enters tonight's start against the New York Yankees at a much trimmer 250 pounds.
"I just watched what I ate," Ponson said. "I don't eat late at night like I used to. And I just keep working harder and harder."
Ponson, 27, said he couldn't point to a single conversation that inspired him to lose weight. But a high-ranking team official said a threat came down from Angelos' office to lose the weight or risk having his three-year, $22.5 million contract revoked.
The club source said "action was being considered" against Ponson because there is specific language in his contract that requires him to be "in first-rate physical condition."
Ponson said he weighed 262 pounds last year when the Orioles sent him to the San Francisco Giants at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline and reported to spring training at 266 pounds.
Last year, Ponson was 12-5 at the All-Star break with a 3.64 ERA. This year, he was 3-12 with a 6.29 ERA at the break. After losing nine consecutive starts, Ponson has gone 2-0 with a 2.76 ERA in his past two starts.
"My stamina's good," Ponson said. "I go out there and throw 120 pitches and I don't get tired. I'm not worried about [the weight criticism] now. It's always going to come up. If I lose two in a row, it's going to come up again."
Approached by reporters about his exclusion from the Orioles' lineup last night, Larry Bigbie stood at his locker with a serious look on his face.
"I know I've been traded," he said.
Pausing just long enough to make the gag work, Bigbie added with a smile: "Just kidding, guys."
Nothing like a little non-waiver deadline humor. Bigbie was out of the lineup, not Baltimore.
Luis Lopez served as the designated hitter because he was 5-for-9 with a homer against Boston Red Sox starter Curt Schilling. B.J. Surhoff, who homered Tuesday before the game was postponed because of rain, started in left field -- the position usually occupied by Bigbie.
"I don't really look into it too much," Bigbie said. "B.J.'s come off the DL and he hit a home run. You've got to give guys like that a look. Anything to mix it up.
"I just go in the cage and get my work in. I'll go about my day."
Bigbie went 1-for-2 against Schilling on April 6, the only time he has faced him.
"I don't think it's a numbers thing," he said. "Hopefully, it's not a trade thing."
Lopez started at second base Tuesday before the postponement. Last night was his 10th start in 99 games, three coming as the DH.
"I always come to the park expecting to play, no matter who's pitching," he said. "At least I'm not caught by surprise."
Lopez to pitch Sunday
Rodrigo Lopez went 2 2/3 innings Tuesday before rain interrupted his start, but manager Lee Mazzilli won't bring him back on short rest against the New York Yankees.
After toying with the idea, Mazzilli will have Lopez take his normal turn Sunday.
"We're going to stay as is," Mazzilli said.
Ripken Series participants
St. Mary's County and Churchville will represent Maryland as the 12-year-old teams in the 2004 Cal Ripken World Series on Aug. 14-22 at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen.
Churchville, the Harford County District 13 champion, will serve as the host team.
Lexington, Ky., secured a spot in the series last week by winning the Ohio Valley Regional Tournament. The other seven U.S. teams will be determined next week upon completion of their tournaments.
International teams from Australia, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and South Korea also will participate.
Ripken Baseball still needs host families to provide housing for players. Anyone who's interested should call 410-823-0808.
Around the horn
Mazzilli said he expects reliever Todd Williams to be available tonight in New York. Williams suffered a mild concussion Monday after being hit at the base of his skull by a line drive from Gabe Kapler. ... The Orioles played the 8,000th game in their 50-year history. They were 4,172-3,815 with 12 ties, and had the second-highest winning percentage (.522) in the American League behind the Yankees (.526) since 1954.