FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - One year after seething over his assignment to the Orioles' bullpen, pitcher Rodrigo Lopez learned he has been named the Opening Day starter.
Manager Lee Mazzilli made the announcement, which was expected, before yesterday's 5-5 tie with the Boston Red Sox.
Lopez led the Orioles with 14 wins last year despite splitting his season between relieving and starting. He ended the season in the rotation after being removed from it twice. His first start didn't come until May 20.
Sidney Ponson pitched last year's opener, but he endorsed Lopez this spring. Mazzilli obviously agreed.
"He's earned it," Mazzilli said. "He deserves it, too, especially with what he did last year, how he carried himself."
Lopez, who will oppose the Oakland Athletics on April 4 at Camden Yards, is 0-1 with a 5.06 ERA in 16 innings this spring. Ponson, most likely the No. 2 starter, is 0-1 with a 7.88 ERA in eight innings.
"I feel good. I just found out. I am very excited about it," Lopez said.
"Like I said before, I feel it's just a reward from last year, all the changes I went through, getting assigned to the bullpen and stuff. I am happy and look forward to starting the season."
Lopez never let his dissatisfaction with the bullpen affect his performance. He posted a 1.99 ERA in 31 2/3 relief innings.
"I kind of put that behind," he said. "It's different, and I proved to myself that I can be a starter. I had that in mind. My determination being here was being in the rotation, and this is like an extra bonus."
Lopez also started the 2003 opener, allowing two earned runs (four total) in six innings against the Cleveland Indians. He didn't get the decision in the Orioles' 6-5, 13-inning win.
"I feel more mature," he said. "Of course, I was younger, but I had just one year experience in the AL. I have gotten used to the AL. I know what can happen. I know what to expect. I know of the responsibility.
"I am just proud of what happened. I got another chance to be an Opening Day starter."
A 15-game winner in 2002, Lopez was slowed by a strained oblique muscle the next year and went 7-10 with a 5.82 ERA.
Mazzilli wouldn't name the rest of his rotation, but James Baldwin was eliminated from consideration for the fifth slot yesterday after being reassigned to the minor league camp in Sarasota, Fla.
Baldwin needs to get more innings - he has thrown 11 this spring - and there aren't enough to go around in camp. He'll eventually be assigned to Triple-A Ottawa.
"As far as me being in the starting rotation, I just need to go down there and pitch some innings, and that's what the scenario is," Baldwin said.
An All-Star in 2000, Baldwin fully expects to rejoin the Orioles this summer.
"Right now if they said they needed a starter, I'm not ready," he said. "I'll go down there and get my work in, and as soon as that happens, I'll be ready to roll."