Cuban defector Rodriguez gets third look

Orioles notebook

Riley will start Thursday in first exhibition game

Baseball

February 28, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The Orioles held a third workout yesterday for Cuban defector Maels Rodriguez, with team officials and bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks watching him throw on one of the practice mounds beyond the back fields.

Rodriguez, 25, used to touch 100 mph with his fastball, but he hasn't pitched in two years, and the rust is making it difficult for the Orioles to get an accurate read on him. Executive vice president Jim Beattie returns to camp today and will evaluate him for the first time.

"We're still looking at him," vice president Mike Flanagan said. "I don't think anything will happen for the next couple of days."

Representing Cuba in the 2000 Olympics, Rodriguez allowed a two-run single to Ernie Young in the gold-medal game. But his fastball reportedly was clocked at 100 mph.

"He was one of the best pitchers in the whole world," said Orioles scout Chu Halabi. "His fastball is always around 96, 97. He has a great curveball. He's a great competitor. And he's a legitimate 25 years old.

"He's the real, real deal. We might be lucky."

A pulled muscle near his rib cage has led Rodriguez to lower his elbow and lose velocity and movement. He still isn't close to throwing at his normal speed.

"Right now, I'd say he's 70 percent," Halabi said. "He's getting his mechanics where he should be."

Rodriguez was suspended by his club team for one year after defecting from Cuba for the first time in 2002 and changing his mind so he could stay with his wife. He defected to El Salvador a year later.

If the Orioles sign Rodriguez, he would start out at Single-A or Double-A. He's represented by Barry Praver, whose list of clients includes Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson.

"I see him finishing in the big leagues if he gets his stuff together," Halabi said.

A Japanese team apparently has expressed interest in Rodriguez, and he could work out for other major league clubs if the Orioles don't sign him soon.

His younger brother, Jose, also threw for the Orioles yesterday, and some observers said the 20-year-old was more impressive.

Riley to start Thursday

Left-hander Matt Riley will start Thursday's exhibition opener against the Florida Marlins in Jupiter, Fla., followed by James Baldwin and Hayden Penn.

Another left-hander, Erik Bedard, starts Friday's home opener against the Marlins, and Daniel Cabrera goes Saturday against the Washington Nationals.

Rodrigo Lopez and Ponson make the next two starts for the Orioles. Ponson is pushed back because he must attend Thursday's hearing in Aruba related to his Christmas Day arrest on assault charges after an incident on a beach.

Manager Lee Mazzilli is hoping to give each starter three innings or 50 pitches.

Riley is trying to make the club as its fifth starter, but Mazzilli said the left-hander's assignment Thursday shouldn't be interpreted to mean he won the job.

"Don't read anything into that," he said.

The Orioles also are scheduled to play intrasquad games tomorrow and Wednesday. Eric DuBose, Jay Witasick, Bruce Chen and B.J. Ryan will pitch for one team tomorrow, with Ponson, Kurt Ainsworth, Steve Reed and Todd Williams opposing them.

Julio ahead of schedule

Reliever Jorge Julio seems to be ahead of schedule with his three-week throwing program, and the Orioles remain optimistic that he'll be ready for Opening Day.

Julio is receiving treatment for a strained right forearm. He isn't allowed to throw from a mound. No other player has been held out of workouts because of an injury.

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