O's offense bails out Lopez in two-HR start

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Opening Day

April 04, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER | CHILDS WALKER,SUN REPORTER

Rodrigo Lopez struggled in his third Opening Day start for the Orioles, allowing six runs (five earned) in seven innings to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Jonny Gomes and Travis Lee crushed home runs off the right-hander, but the Orioles' offense handed him a victory with nine runs and 14 hits.

"I give the offense all the credit for this win," he said. "I felt I had good command on the corners, but I was leaving the ball up."

Lopez said that on both home runs, he failed to get the ball as low as he wanted.

"The one to Lee, that was bad mechanics," he said. "I wasn't that focused. I should be more concentrated and execute a good pitch."

On the bright side, he allowed but one walk and made it through seven innings on 91 pitches.

"He was really good at times," said manager Sam Perlozzo. "It just seemed he couldn't keep it together the whole time."

The manager said he trusts his veteran to get past such struggles. That's why he let him go out for the seventh inning after allowing Lee's homer in the sixth.

"That's how much confidence I have in him," Perlozzo said. "He can battle through."

Lopez had pitched acceptably but not sharply in his final few spring starts. He posted a 4.90 ERA last season.

Matos: Peaks, valleys

Luis Matos had an odd spring. He came to camp as the Orioles' incumbent center fielder but seemed to fall behind Corey Patterson after he left to play for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. Matos went on a tear upon returning, however, and earned the starting nod yesterday against left-hander Scott Kazmir.

His Opening Day turned out as crazy as his spring.

In the first inning, Matos caught a fly ball in short center field. Tampa Bay shortstop Julio Lugo tagged and tried to score. A strong throw might have gotten him, but Matos' fling barely scooted past the infield dirt before dying near the pitcher's mound.

In the bottom of the inning, he tried to bunt Brian Roberts to second but rolled the ball directly to the pitcher. He reached on the fielder's choice and quickly stole second. But as he stole, his helmet slammed down on the bridge of his nose and opened a wound

"I thought I broke my nose or something the way it was bleeding," he said. "In this game, it's always something, but then you have a chance to rebound."

Rebound he did.

Matos stayed in the game and in the fifth he ripped a leadoff home run to left. He became the first Oriole since Frank Robinson to homer in consecutive openers.

Perlozzo said he has been impressed with Matos, who faced questions about his hustle last year and was the subject of trade rumors all spring.

"I'm sure he's taken a little bit of time to think about the things he needed to do," the manager said. "He's a proud individual. ... He came into spring training and from the start to the finish, he ran every ball out, and that's continuing."

Ray gets first save

New closer Chris Ray got his first save chance yesterday and converted easily.

He entered with a three-run lead, not the most tense scenario, and got Gomes on a pop fly, Lee on a grounder and catcher Toby Hall on a pop-up. Ray said he was perfectly happy to come in with a sizable lead.

"I definitely think anybody will tell you it's more fun to pitch with a three-run lead than a one-run lead," he said. "I was comfortable just throwing strikes and not trying to strike anyone out."

Joked Perlozzo: "He was going in whether we were up a run or half a run. But it was nice that he had a cushion."

Ray was dominant through most of spring training, and Perlozzo said he has few worries about the youngster or setup man LaTroy Hawkins, who pitched a scoreless eighth.

"I don't think we could've scripted the eighth or ninth any better," the manager said.

Around the horn

Rookie Nick Markakis received one of the loudest ovations as the team was introduced yesterday. He made his debut as a ninth-inning defensive replacement in right field. ... Lugo left the game in the third inning with a strained abdominal muscle. ... Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams were among those who attended the opener. ... Kazmir (22 years, 69 days) was the youngest Opening Day major league starter since Dwight Gooden (21 years, 143 days) in 1986.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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