Rangers down O's, Ponson

Shot off thumb ousts starter in 2-1 loss

July 29, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

If the Orioles wanted to remove Sidney Ponson from their rotation, they didn't need to engage in more trade discussions last night. They didn't need to work the phones or huddle with another team's owner.

A sharp bouncer might have become the one solution they wanted to avoid.

Ponson left a 2-1 loss to the Texas Rangers in the third inning after being struck in the right thumb by catcher Sandy Alomar's come-backer. He walked to the dugout without waiting for trainer Richie Bancells.

Blood seeped from the tip of his thumb, and a team executive sent word to the press box that Ponson tore the nail and X-rays were negative. A few minutes later, Bancells phoned to say it was only a bruise.

"Right now I look for him to make his next start unless I'm told otherwise," manager Lee Mazzilli said.

Ex-Oriole David Dellucci hit a two-out home run off rookie Chris Ray in the ninth inning to break a 1-1 tie and hand the Orioles (51-50) their 10th loss in 12 games, dropping them into fourth place behind Toronto in the AL East. They had runners on second and third with none out in the eighth but couldn't score.

"You've got to make your own breaks," Mazzilli said.

At least Ponson didn't suffer any, but he was gone after 31 pitches against a team that's interested in obtaining him without absorbing too much of the $10 million still owed on his contract after this season.

If Phil Nevin hadn't exercised his contractual right to refuse a trade to the Orioles earlier this week, Ponson would have been in San Diego last night with the Padres. Instead, he walked out of the home clubhouse at Camden Yards without speaking to reporters.

Unable to complete a trade for the Florida Marlins' A.J. Burnett, the Orioles continue their search for a front-line starting pitcher as the non-waiver deadline approaches Sunday.

One team official predicted yesterday that the Orioles have a better chance of landing a pitcher, either a starter or a reliever, than an outfielder. Another member of the organization remained optimistic that the club could fill both needs.

"I think we can meet a number of our needs - two, maybe three," he said.

A team source said the Orioles have "more than 30 guys targeted, either from farm systems or major league guys." He also said the Pittsburgh Pirates "aren't on our list of teams," which would eliminate pitchers Kip Wells and Mark Redman.

"I'm guardedly optimistic," he said. "And I don't think we'll just address this year's needs. We have some very fundamental needs that extend beyond this year."

Ponson might simply need a change of scenery. He's lost five straight decisions, his last victory coming on June 18.

On the same day that news broke of the proposed trade with San Diego, Ponson allowed one run in six innings against Tampa Bay before surrendering two more in the seventh in a 3-2 loss. Last night's quick exit in a scoreless game lowered his ERA to 5.80.

Ponson might have succeeded in fighting the distractions that come from being a trade target, but Larry Bigbie concedes that he's had trouble focusing in recent weeks.

David Newhan, recalled from Triple-A Ottawa after Eli Marrero went on the disabled list, replaced Bigbie in left last night.

"He needs to get out there and relax," Mazzilli said. "I think he's putting too much on his shoulders right now."

Newhan singled in his first at-bat with the club since being optioned on July 7. He scored on a two-out single by Melvin Mora in the third inning for a 1-0 lead, and he almost broke a 1-1 tie in the eighth, but third baseman Hank Blalock made a diving stop and threw him out to strand two runners.

"It's just not going our way, I guess," Newhan said.

Rafael Palmeiro had walked and pinch runner Bigbie took third on Sammy Sosa's bloop double with none out, but Javy Lopez grounded out, Luis Matos struck out and Newhan was robbed.

"Sometimes we just haven't gotten the big hit, but tonight we hit 10 balls on the nose," Brian Roberts said. "What can you do? It's frustrating as hell."

Tim Byrdak pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings after replacing Ponson, but Alfonso Soriano homered off Jason Grimsley leading off the sixth. Ray, who worked four innings the past two nights, hung a splitter in the ninth.

The Orioles stranded 41 runners in the four-game series, and their frustration is becoming more evident.

"It just seems like guys are pressing a little bit, trying to put everything on their shoulders," Newhan said. "We can't afford to keep doing that."

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