Source: O's, Matusz close to deal as deadline nears

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

First-round pick scheduled to take physical today

August 14, 2008|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,Sun reporter

Orioles first-round draft pick Brian Matusz is scheduled to be in Baltimore today to take a physical, one of the final steps to the pitcher and the team reaching an agreement on a contract.

According to a source familiar with the negotiations, the two sides are closing in on a deal that could be finalized within the next 24 hours. The Orioles have until midnight tomorrow to reach an agreement or they'll forfeit the draft rights to the University of San Diego left-hander and get a similar compensatory pick in next year's draft.

Orioles president Andy MacPhail said last night that "there's no agreement yet, but we are making some progress."

Orioles director of scouting Joe Jordan did not return calls seeking comment, and Matusz's agent, Marc Agar, declined to comment. Both sides have been mum about the type of signing bonus Matusz has been seeking, but it is believed he originally was looking for a major league contract in the neighborhood of $5 million.

The Orioles gave Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters, the fifth overall pick in last year's draft, a franchise-record $6 million signing bonus.

MacPhail acknowledged Tuesday that the club had made little progress in negotiations with Agar, and the issue had become a concern. However, the sides took a huge step in the right direction yesterday, according to a source, and it appears that a deal could be imminent.

Matusz, who was regarded by most scouts as the top pitcher in the draft, was taken fourth overall by the Orioles, who opted for a pitcher over University of South Carolina slugging first baseman Justin Smoak.

Markakis in overdrive

When Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis thinks about what will constitute a good individual season, he always comes back to one statistic.

"I think RBIs are the biggest thing," Markakis said. "RBIs, on-base [percentage], runs scored. ... If you're driving in 100 runs, you're really doing something right."

For much of the season, it appeared that Markakis would come up considerably short in his quest to drive in 100 runs for a second straight year. At the midpoint of the season, Markakis had only 39 RBIs, well behind the pace he set last season, when he drove in 112 runs.

But he has accelerated that pace recently, driving in 25 runs in 26 games since the All-Star break. He has been particularly dangerous with men on base this month, as he has 19 RBIs in 12 August games. He has at least one RBI in seven of his past nine games - including two RBIs last night - bringing his season total to 75.

Another debut?

Struggling right-hander Dennis Sarfate threw a bullpen session before last night's game and is preparing to start Saturday against the Detroit Tigers. But manager Dave Trembley hasn't committed fully to his getting the start.

"I haven't said that he's not going to pitch," Trembley said. "Until something happens, he's going to pitch. I don't know that anything's going to happen."

If Sarfate doesn't start - and there is a good chance he will return to the bullpen - it appears that Double-A right-hander Bradley Bergesen (15-3, 3.00) could be the top candidate to get the call. Bergesen, 22, earned his team-record 15th win for the Bowie Baysox on Tuesday, going 6 1/3 innings and allowing two earned runs. That means if he gets the call, he will be starting on three days' rest.

Triple-A Norfolk's Hayden Penn is another option, but he hasn't pitched since Aug. 5 because of shoulder issues. Brian Burres, who started this season in the Orioles' rotation, has pitched six scoreless innings for the Tides since his demotion. However, they have been in relief.

Around the horn

Former closer Chris Ray pitched a scoreless inning for the Gulf Coast Orioles on Tuesday, allowing no hits and striking out one. It was his second scoreless outing. ... The Orioles signed right-handed pitcher Scott Chiasson, 31, from the Mexican League and assigned him to Triple-A Norfolk. Chiasson, who spent parts of two seasons with the Chicago Cubs, was 2-1 with a 1.90 ERA and 26 saves in 47 games for Tigres de Quintana Roo. ... When the Orioles allowed four runs in the first inning Tuesday, it marked the first time in franchise history that they allowed four or more runs in the first inning of three consecutive games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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