Conine leans toward return


His option near vesting, veteran awaits O's moves in offseason


NEW YORK -- The Orioles' Jeff Conine last night reached 400 plate appearances for this season. When Conine hits 450, which he is on pace to do before the end of August, a $2 million contract option will vest for 2007.

The 40-year-old outfielder-first baseman has said he'll contemplate retirement after this season, but last night he maintained that his thought process is to return next year with the Orioles.

"It all depends on the complexion of the team next year and what they do this offseason," Conine said when asked whether his projected role in 2007 will influence his thinking. "If they come back and say you're not going to get as much playing time because we're going to get this guy, this guy and this guy, if we're going to win, I might be fine with that."

Conine said his improved play over the season - he was hitting .317 in his previous 44 games before going 0-for-2 with two walks last night - will influence his decision whether to return.

"Any athlete is going to be happier when they're performing well," Conine said. "When you're playing well, the whole picture looks a lot rosier than when you're struggling."

The Orioles have gotten several inquiries about Conine, who passed through waivers, but according to industry sources, his $2 million option next year has scared several teams off. Orioles vice president Jim Duquette said Conine's future with the club hasn't been discussed yet.

"I don't think we predicted when we signed him that he'd have this many at-bats at this point," he said. "I would be surprised if the option didn't vest at this point, yeah."

Mota a possibility

Hoping to bolster a bullpen that entered last night with a major league-worst 5.21 ERA, the Orioles have some interest in right-hander Guillermo Mota, who was designated for assignment by the Cleveland Indians after going 1-3 with a 6.21 ERA.

The Indians made the move Friday, meaning that they have 10 days to trade or release him.

Mota, 33, once considered one of the better relievers in the game, has struggled in recent years with injuries. He is a free agent after the season.

When rosters expand in September, the Orioles also are expected to look at setup man James Hoey, who has a 2.57 ERA since being called up to Double-A Bowie. Hoey, 23, throws in the mid- to high 90s with a hard curve.

Duquette and Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said yesterday that bolstering the bullpen will be a top priority this offseason.

Handle with care

Perlozzo defended his decision before last night's game to pull starter Erik Bedard after the sixth inning Tuesday night with the Orioles leading 3-1.

The left-hander said afterward that despite throwing 106 pitches, he was hoping to go back out for the seventh inning and was surprised when he learned his evening was over.

"Before the [sixth] inning started, we thought that if he got through a decent inning, we would send him back out there," Perlozzo said. "I think he threw 27 pitches that last inning. I believe that he maxed out and I asked my pitching coach, `What do you think?' And before we even got to that, he goes, `You can forget about that now.'

"It's easy to say you can do that afterward," Perlozzo added. "I think we've been very consistent with Erik in those kinds of situations. We've got a good kid there."

Bedard, who hasn't thrown more than 115 pitches in any game this season, has pitched 148 2/3 innings, a career high. He acknowledged last week that his arm was "a little bit tired," and the Orioles have vowed to monitor him closely.

Around the horn

Duquette said no trades are imminent involving Orioles who have cleared waivers. The club has listened to several offers involving reliever LaTroy Hawkins, but hasn't been enticed enough by what's offered to consider dealing him. ... Melvin Mora, who sprained his left thumb and was taken out of the game in the sixth inning Tuesday for X-rays, was in the lineup last night. ... Kurt Birkins, on the disabled list with left elbow neuritis, is scheduled to go on a rehabilitation assignment today, possibly at Single-A Frederick.

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