With season on deck, questions bat leadoff

Questions entering the season

The Orioles

April 03, 2005|By Roch Kubatko

Are Daniel Cabrera and Erik Bedard over their heads so high in the rotation? It's always a gamble when two pitchers who were rookies a year ago are tabbed as the No. 2 and No. 3 starters, but the Orioles went with their hottest hands. Nobody was better in the spring rotation than these two guys. Cabrera was 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA. Bedard was 3-0 with a 3.71 ERA. And it's not as if there were a bunch of veterans being shoved below them. The Orioles will take their chances and hope they strike gold.

Can Sidney Ponson be depended upon? To stir up controversy and infuriate club officials? He's already done that. The Orioles must wonder whether they can count on Ponson to stay focused, exhibit more maturity and win games from the fourth slot in the rotation. He'll benefit from more favorable matchups, no longer exposed to the other team's ace. He just needs to exhibit better control, and not just within the strike zone.

Was it a good idea to make B.J. Ryan the closer? The Orioles just lost perhaps the top left-handed setup man in baseball, but it was by choice. They've got him working the ninth inning, the first time he has begun a season in that role. A September audition and overpowering spring - he allowed runs in only one of his 12 Florida appearances - convinced manager Lee Mazzilli and pitching coach Ray Miller that Ryan was ready. They just have to hope they didn't sacrifice the eighth inning.

Can Sammy Sosa reverse his statistical decline? Despite missing nearly a month last season with a sprained ligament in his back, Sosa still managed to hit 35 home runs and drive in 80 runs in 126 games with the Chicago Cubs. And that wasn't enough for most people. In the past four seasons, Sosa has hit 64, 49, 40 and 35 home runs. The seven-time All-Star's OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) has gone from 1.174 in 2001 to .849 last season. He doesn't believe age is catching up to him. The Orioles must agree.

How much does Rafael Palmeiro have left in the tank? If you believe Palmeiro, he won't have to pull over anytime soon. Expected to spend at least half his games as the designated hitter to stay fresh, Palmeiro is driven by the need to prove he's still a big-time run producer and not in decline. His batting average fell to a season-low .242 on July 7, but he hit .306 with nine homers and 25 RBIs in his last 29 games. He believes the improvement came from adapting to the constant infield shifts and not worrying about going to the opposite field.

Will Jay Gibbons and Luis Matos make it through an entire season healthy? Why not try something new? Matos has been limited to 31, 17 and 89 games in three of the past four seasons, his injuries ranging from a dislocated shoulder to broken hamate bone to fractured shin. He was healthy and productive this spring, hitting for average and driving in runs. That's a start. Gibbons had hip and back injuries last season, twice going on the disabled list, and underwent surgery in 2001 and 2002 related to a broken hamate bone and a suture that wouldn't dissolve. He didn't get much time at first base this spring because he contracted pneumonia. That's not a good start.

Can Mazzilli survive another bad first half? Expecting to sit in the dugout throughout his first season, Mazzilli wound up on the hot seat when the Orioles fell to last place before the All-Star break. Speculation mounted that the team would make a drastic change, but the Orioles played hard until the end, never quitting on their manager, and won 21 of their last 34 games. They were 41-36 in the second half, their first winning record after the break since 1999, and Mazzilli earned another chance. But his contract expires after this season, and he can't afford for the team to take huge steps backward.

- Roch Kubatko

Roch Kubatko's roster analysis

Pitchers

30 Rick Bauer, RHP

Height, weight: 6-6, 225

Born: 1/10/77

Skinny: Career takes upward turn after troubled 2004.

45 Erik Bedard, LHP

Height, weight: 6-1, 190

Born: 3/6/79

Skinny: No. 3 starter led staff in spring victories with three.

35 Daniel Cabrera, RHP

Height, weight: 6-7, 230

Born: 5/28/81

Skinny: From Double-A to No. 2 starter in less than a year.

27 Bruce Chen, LHP

Height, weight: 6-1, 210

Born: 6/19/77

Skinny: Might finally be safe for journeyman to send out his laundry.

59 Eric DuBose, LHP

Height, weight: 6-3, 215

Born: 5/15/76

Skinny: Survives horrid spring, rebounds from elbow surgery.

50 Jorge Julio, RHP

Height, weight: 6-1, 230

Born: 3/3/79

Skinny: Will try to love eighth inning as much as he did the ninth.

41 Steve Kline, LHP

Height, weight: 6-1, 215

Born: 8/22/72

Skinny: Jokester poses serious threat as left-handed setup man.

19 Rodrigo Lopez, RHP

Height, weight: 6-1, 190,

Born: 12/14/75

Skinny: Opening Day starter for second time in three seasons.

36 John Parrish, LHP

Height, weight: 5-11, 190

Born: 11/26/77

Skinny: Lefty hopes to build on breakthrough 2004 season.

43 Sidney Ponson, RHP

Height, weight: 6-1, 250

Born: 11/2/76

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