Weary of sitting, Matos gets to walk

July 07, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

CHICAGO -- Three years ago, when he hit .303 with 13 home runs, 45 RBIs and 15 stolen bases, Luis Matos was billed as the Orioles' center fielder of the future. However, the organization finally grew tired of waiting, designating the 27-year-old for assignment yesterday, a move that likely ends his injury-hampered Orioles career.

The Orioles, who purchased the contract of outfielder Luis Terrero from Triple-A Ottawa to replace Matos, now have 10 days to trade Matos, give him his outright release or pass him through waivers. Orioles vice president Jim Duquette said that even if he passed through waivers, Matos, who is making $1.625 million this season, would not likely accept a minor league assignment.

At this point, there has been no league-wide interest in Matos, the club's Opening Day center fielder this season who faced questions over the past two years about his work ethic. Used by manager Sam Perlozzo mostly against left-handed pitchers or as a late-inning defensive replacement, Matos was hitting .207 with two home runs and five RBIs. Matos hit both of those home runs in the first week of the season and had not had an RBI since June 2.

"He had discussions with Sam about his playing time and we didn't think that we were going to be able to give him much more than what he was getting," Duquette said. "We just thought it might be better if we gave him a better opportunity somewhere else."

The move was made after it was decided that rookie outfielder Nick Markakis (right calf strain) did not need to go on the 15-day disabled list as was originally thought.

"Obviously, I was real sore and it was really tough to walk yesterday, but it feels 10 times better," Markakis said. "I told them if they need me, I can play."

Terrero, who was batting .321 with 11 home runs and 25 RBIs in 52 games for Ottawa, but was 0-for-14 in his first stint with the Orioles this season, was going to come up to replace Markakis if he went on the disabled list.

The decision to designate Matos leaves Perlozzo with a bench that includes Terrero, Ed Rogers and Howie Clark, all who were either in the minors or not with the organization when the season began.

The Orioles informed Matos of their decision at the team hotel before last night's game. He couldn't be reached for comment yesterday, though third baseman Melvin Mora, one of his closest friends on the team, said that he spoke to him and Matos was dealing with the situation fine.

"He's not happy, but he's not down," Mora said. "He don't play so much here. Why would he have been down? I think it is a good move for him."

Matos was the Orioles' 10th-round selection in the 1996 first-year-player draft. He cracked the big leagues in 2000, playing 72 games for the Orioles. He missed most of the 2001 and 2002 seasons because of injuries and his 2004 campaign was also cut short by a stress fracture in his right shin. Matos hit .280 last year, which also featured a stay on the disabled list, but he had just four home runs and 32 RBIs.

"It seemed like every time he got the chance to start or started doing well, he ended up getting hurt and struggled after that," Perlozzo said. "It was no different this year. With the emergence of [Brandon] Fahey ... it made it hard for Luis."

The organization was openly displeased with Matos' conditioning, hustle and defense last season. Perlozzo spoke to the player last September and told him that he needed to come back after the offseason and work harder and have a better attitude. Perlozzo said that he was pleased with Matos' effort, but his lack of production made it hard to give him playing time.

"I think he admitted that he had a tough year last year," Perlozzo said. "I think it showed on the field last year. However, I thought he went about his business in a professional manner this spring."

It was clear that Matos had become disenchanted with his role.

"At times, he was probably not the same guy that he's always been," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "I hope he gets a chance to make a fresh start."

Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley agreed.

"At times, he looked brilliant," Crowley said. "As of recently, he wasn't happy here. He just wasn't happy here. In that case, I think a change of scenery would work well for him."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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