Benched Palmeiro, Mazzilli talk


Slumping first baseman sits in hometown

J. Lopez back, but not as catcher


August 29, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas - Trying to shake his team out of a collective slump, one that produced 11 straight losses before last night, Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli benched Rafael Palmeiro as part of a redesigned lineup.

Leadoff hitter Brian Roberts joined Palmeiro in the dugout, with Luis Lopez making his first start at second base. Jose Leon started at first base, giving Mazzilli an extra right-handed hitter against Texas Rangers left-hander Kenny Rogers.

"[Roberts] needs a day off anyway and we want to give Luis some at-bats. And we want to try something different," Mazzilli said.

The change didn't seem to faze Roberts, but Palmeiro spent about 45 minutes in Mazzilli's office before batting practice. Palmeiro already had seen the lineup when Mazzilli approached him at his locker, and they left the clubhouse together.

Asked whether he feels the need to notify Palmeiro of any changes or give an explanation, Mazzilli said: "I talk to him. I talk to a lot of my guys when that happens.

"Right now you've got to get guys who you think are going to do the job."

Making his return to Texas after signing with the Orioles last winter, Palmeiro went 1-for-3 with a walk Friday night. Last night he flied out to end the game as a pinch hitter, making him 4-for-35 (.114) in his past 11 games with one home run since the break.

He is batting .184 against left-handers, though he is a career .267 hitter (12-for-45) with four homers against Rogers.

Mazzilli stopped short of saying he would continue to sit Palmeiro against left-handers. Asked whether last night's change was permanent, he said: "I don't know what permanent means. We'll just see how it goes. We have options."

So does Palmeiro. It kicks in for $4.5 million next season if he plays 140 games in the field, and he is 23 short with 34 remaining.

Any removal of Palmeiro from the lineup is a delicate situation for club officials, who respect his status as a likely Hall of Famer and his stated desire to retire as an Oriole.

"The thing that you're looking for is the team that you can put on the field that you think can help you win right now," Mazzilli said. "When you're 1 1/2 games out of third place, that has to be your immediate goal right now. We just lost 11 straight games. Whatever the combination was, it wasn't working. It's my job to put a team out there that I think is going to win on that particular night."

J. Lopez is back, as DH

Javy Lopez returned to the lineup last night, but not as the starting catcher.

Bothered by lower-back stiffness, Lopez was used as the designated hitter for the 18th time this season. He had missed three of the past four games.

"It's much, much better today," he said before going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.

Lopez conceded that he'll be dealing with the pain for the rest of the season, and hoped that more time as the DH would enable him to keep playing. The discomfort intensifies whenever he begins to rise from his crouch to make a throw, or uses his hips more to swing at an inside pitch.

If Lopez had been scratched from the lineup, Mazzilli was prepared to reinsert Roberts and move Luis Lopez to DH.

Back pain wasn't as much of an issue when Javy Lopez caught in Atlanta before signing with the Orioles.

"It hurt, it bothered me, but I could still play with it," he said. "I was able to block out the pain."

Finch, Ray are finished

As the minor league season nears its end, the Orioles have shut down two of their top three draft picks from 2003.

Brian Finch and Christopher Ray, selected in the second and third rounds, won't pitch during the last two weeks. Finch is returning to Texas A&M to take classes after the Orioles decided to rest him. Ray is bothered by a strained elbow.

Finch totaled 110 innings with three affiliates this season, the last 37 1/3 at Single-A Frederick.

"He ran out of gas," said Doc Rodgers, director of minor league operations. "He's on empty."

Orioles today

Opponent: Texas Rangers

Site: Ameriquest Field in Arlington (Texas)

Time: 2:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 54, 20/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Sidney Ponson (8-13, 5.62) vs. Rangers' Cris Young (0-0, 4.76)

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