Stiff back keeps Sabo on bench


DETROIT -- Orioles third baseman Chris Sabo, bothered by back stiffness, was out of the lineup yesterday and is questionable for today's series finale against the Detroit Tigers.

Sabo said he felt his lower back stiffen while running from first to third in the seventh inning of Monday's game.

"I should only be out one game," Sabo said. "I could have played today, but they wanted to give it a day so I can be back in there tomorrow."

Sabo left the park Monday expecting to be ready to play after the Orioles' day off, but woke up Tuesday morning feeling worse.

"Overnight it really got stiff," Sabo said. "I don't know how it happened. I don't know if it was a weather thing, or the wind, or what."

Sabo took anti-inflammatory medication and alternated hot and cold packs on his back. He said the injury is unrelated to the herniated disk that put him on the disabled list against his wishes for 15 days last June in Cincinnati.

"I felt good after three days even with the ruptured disk," Sabo said. "This is just a muscle thing."

Using a different lineup than on Opening Day for the first time, manager Johnny Oates replaced Sabo with Tim Hulett at third base and in the seventh spot in the lineup. Oates said if Sabo does not play today, Leo Gomez will make his 1994 debut.

"Leo has better numbers against [Mike] Moore," Oates said. "This way they both get some at-bats."

Oates said he does not anticipate Sabo's injury developing into anything that would require a stay on the disabled list.

"If he still can't play by the time we leave Texas, then maybe we would have to look at it. But the way he's talking, it shouldn't be anything more than a day or so," Oates said. "We'll just have to wait and see."

Fernandez says he's fine

Left-hander Sid Fernandez came out of Tuesday's second and final injury rehabilitation start encouraged enough to tell Orioles general manager Roland Hemond his arm felt the best it had in five years. He will put it through a final test by throwing on the side today.

In seven minor-league innings, Fernandez allowed two runs on three hits. He walked three and struck out eight.

After his first start, in Columbus, Ga., Fernandez encountered four hours in travel delays because of an aircraft's mechanical difficulties. The morning after his second start, for Rochester at Scranton/Wilkes Barre, Pa., Fernandez's flight was canceled, which delayed his arrival in Detroit until yesterday afternoon.

Fernandez is scheduled to oppose Jack Armstrong (0-0), whlimited the Orioles to two runs in six innings at Camden Yards, in Sunday's finale of a three-game series at The Ballpark in Arlington.

In tomorrow's series opener, Orioles left-hander Arthur Rhodes (0-1, 18.00) opposes rookie right-hander Rick Helling (0-0, 9.00). Ben McDonald (2-0, 2.57) opposes Kenny Rogers (0-2, 9.28) Saturday.

Roster decision Sunday

The Orioles will have to trim a player from the roster to make room for Fernandez. Oates did not say whether he will expand the pitching staff to 11 with Fernandez's addition, though that is the most likely scenario. Fernandez will be limited to 80 pitches in his debut. That, plus a schedule that leaves the Orioles without a day off for 13 consecutive days beginning Tuesday makes it highly unlikely Oates would scale back to a five-man bullpen.

Gomez and outfielder Damon Buford were the last two position players to make the roster. Buford has played once and scored a run as a pinch runner.

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Left-handed -- in every sense of the word -- Orioles reliever Brad Pennington is so confident in his control he has put his beloved goatee on the line in a friendly bet with Nasty Nestor Aparicio, a nightly sports talk show host for WWLG-AM.

"He called me up and was giving me a hard time about walkinpeople," Pennington said. "I came at him and put a challenge to him. If I walk a guy in my first outing in Texas, the goatee goes. If I don't, his ponytail goes. I get to cut it off myself."

Firing the first shot in an effort to publicize the bet he hopes will somehow raise money for charity, Pennington, who has three walks in 2 2/3 innings, called Aparicio "a weasel."


The boyfriend of Holly Minter, the woman who fell 30 feet out of the upper deck on Opening Day in Arlington, called the Orioles to arrange for Rafael Palmeiro, Minter's favorite player, to call her at the hospital. . . . Detroit ranks first in the AL in fielding with one error, the Orioles second with two. . . . The Orioles have turned one double play seven games into the season. . . . Before going hitless in four at-bats yesterday, Orioles center fielder Mike Devereaux had driven in at least one run each game. . . . The Orioles, 3-2 in day games, play 45 games under natural lighting. They have not had a winning record in day games since going 26-23 in 1986.

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