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Plate blocked, Zaun may sidestep organization in '96


ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Damon Buford had a beef about being returned to the minor leagues and now Greg Zaun is voicing his about staying there.

Zaun was bypassed when the Orioles recalled catcher Cesar Devarez from the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings last week, and he is wondering about his future in the organization.

"From what I've been told lately, they think of him [Devarez] as more of a prospect than myself for whatever reason," said Zaun, the nephew of one of the most popular players in Orioles history, ex-catcher Rick Dempsey.

"I'm not going to say anything bad about Cesar. He's a good player. But they've been wanting him to do something positive for a long time and last year he finally hit."

Zaun batted only .237 in 1994 for Rochester, but with Devarez departed, he is playing regularly and starting to thrive.

His average has risen to .276 and his percentage for throwing out would-be base stealers (.500) is even higher than Devarez's impressive .480.

"I feel they could have called up either one of us," Zaun said. "No doubt Cesar has a stronger arm than I do, but the percentages of getting guys was close and there are some other things that I'm better at."

The Orioles wanted Devarez primarily as a defensive replacement for Chris Hoiles and/or Matt Nokes.

Zaun acknowledged he mistakenly believed Nokes had been let go by the Orioles when the call-up came, which would have meant much more big-league playing time.

"I was disappointed," Zaun continued. "I feel I could throw out just as many guys and help them more, calling games, blocking balls and making the pitchers feel comfortable. I guess they don't like me."

Zaun, a switch-hitter, said the upside is that he is playing every day, so he is "not going to sit around and gripe. Emphasize that. I'm going to be as positive as I can."

But, he added, as a potential minor-league free agent after this season, he will have options.

"There are 27 other clubs out there," he said. "So, if they don't view me as a prospect, I'm sure someone else will be interested."

Buford still wants out

Buford reported to the Red Wings on Sunday and said, "As long as I'm on the field, I'm going to play hard."

He said he still would prefer "to be somewhere else," reiterating the desire to be traded that he and his father, Don, the Orioles' assistant director of player development, voiced when he was sent down Friday.

Buford said he does not believe he has received a realistic chance from the Orioles, citing "less than 100 at-bats in three years."

"I can't really complain too much," he said after going 2-for-32 in limited duty this season. "There is a new manager. But I can't be at peace with myself unless I get a chance to show what I can do."

He said he expects to be in Rochester -- where he led the International League in runs (89), stole 31 bases and hit a career-high 16 homers last year -- for a long time.

"I've said my piece. I'm not talking anymore about it," Buford said.

Coppinger sharp in AA debut

The legend of Rocky Coppinger grows.

Player development director Syd Thrift wavered a bit before moving the big right-hander to the Double-A Bowie Baysox after less than two months at Frederick, but Coppinger quickly upheld his judgment to proceed.

Coppinger threw the Baysox's first shutout of the year at Reading on Sunday, beating the Eastern League's division-leading Phillies, 3-0, with a three-hit, seven-strikeout performance in a seven-inning game.

"He was stronger in the seventh than he was in the first," said Baysox public relations director Dave Collins.

Coppinger was 7-1 for the Keys with a Carolina League-leading 91 strikeouts.

Around the horn

Rochester's Rod Robertson has been a valuable commodity. He has played seven positions, he sang the national anthem Memorial Day and he hit two homers in a win Friday. . . . Left-hander Rick Krivda is 3-1 with a 1.56 ERA in his past six starts after an 0-1, 8.10 performance in his first two. . . . Pitcher Brian Sackinsky was activated from the disabled list after recovering from bone spurs in his elbow. Outfielder Tyrone Woods also was activated, and second baseman Brad Tyler was put on the disabled list. . . . It's official. Rochester will split its home schedule between Silver Stadium and new Frontier Field next season. Target date for the new stadium is mid-June after passage of the state budget last week. . . . Rochester hit 15 homers in a nine-game period, leading Zaun to call the lineup "the best I've ever played in, by far." . . .

Bowie, continuing to recover from a 3-14 start, plays the South Division leader, Reading, 11 times in June. . . . Catcher Hector Castaneda was returned to Bowie and Nerio Rodriguez was sent back to High Desert. The Baysox have had 43 different players. . . . Former Philadelphia Phillie Kim Batiste had eight RBIs in his first five Bowie games. . . . Catcher B. J. Waszgis has one extra-base hit in four weeks after a fast start. He has not homered since April 27. . . .

At Frederick, Tommy Davis continues to rank among the league batting leaders and hit a game-winning grand slam last week. . . . The Keys activated pitcher Jimmy Walker to replace Coppinger.

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