Benitez impresses, but Fussell hurt Pitching prospect update is mix of good, bad news


Another Orioles pitching prospect is hurt and one may be on the way back.

Frederick's Chris Fussell, one of several young pitchers the Orioles are watching closely, could miss the rest of the season with an elbow problem. Meanwhile, Armando Benitez made his first rehab start since his elbow injury with promising results.

Fussell, who was 5-2 with a 2.81 ERA for the Single-A Keys, will have his elbow evaluated today to determine the severity of his injury. With but three weeks remaining in Frederick's season, Fussell may not return.

Fussell joins Brian Sackinsky (elbow/shoulder), Billy Percibal (elbow) and Benitez as quality young pitchers struck with major injuries this year. Sackinsky, who hurt his shoulder after returning from an elbow injury, may be out for the year and Percibal has not pitched since spring training.

Benitez has not pitched since May and is on the 60-day disabled list. He made his first rehab appearance yesterday with the rookie-level Gulf Coast Orioles and struck out six batters in two innings, allowing just one hit. Club officials are discussing moving Benitez to Double-A Bowie in the next few days.

Pitching is the key

Manager Davey Johnson stressed starting pitching as the key to the Orioles' push for the postseason.

Johnson said the Orioles' 9-4 road trip was due to improved pitching by his four starters and more of the same will be necessary to make a run at the wild-card spot.

"It all goes back to pitching," said Johnson, who got a solid seven innings from Rocky Coppinger last night. "I said all along if we pitch like we have lately, we're going to win a lot of ballgames."

The Orioles starters were at their best on the road. Eight of the 13 games were quality starts. Coppinger, Mike Mussina, David Wells and Scott Erickson went a combined 9-2 with a 3.78 ERA. They walked just 29 batters in 85 2/3 innings and struck out 52. All of this came while the starters were pitching on three days' rest for the first time this season.

But for much of the season starting pitching has been a problem.

"For us to be in contention for a wild card or postseason play with a starting corps that is under .500 is remarkable," Johnson said. "When we pitch like we're capable of pitching we have a chance to win every day."

Ripken in waiting

Bill Ripken is once again playing the role of the little-used infielder.

Ripken, who last started on July 19, began the year as a reserve but started for two weeks while B. J. Surhoff was on the disabled list. Since then, Ripken has spent most of his time on the bench and filling in as a pinch runner or late-inning defensive replacement.

Being a part-time player is something Ripken said he's learned to accept, although he never feels totally comfortable with the role.

"You have to look at the big picture and the people who are playing every day," Ripken said. "B. J. is at third base and Robbie [Alomar] is at second and they're better players than I am in the big picture. You have to accept that.

"Anybody that puts on this uniform wants to play, period. It would be one thing if I didn't think the people playing ahead of me were better players.

". . . You don't have to like the situation, you just have to maintain and be ready to play."

The cut in playing time has slowed Ripken's production. He has appeared in just seven of the past 22 games, going 0-for-4 in that span. He is 0-for-19 in his past 10 games after hitting .304 (21-for-69) with six doubles, two homers and seven RBIs in a 20-game stretch.

"I haven't tried to do anything different," Ripken said. "Getting at-bats here and at-bats there is not an easy thing to do. . . . The big thing is maintaining a positive state of mind."

Anderson remains on hold

Johnson's latest estimate is that center fielder Brady Anderson will return to the starting lineup by this weekend.

Anderson left Friday's game with a right calf injury and has been reduced to a pinch-hitting role since.

Anderson said he feels like he could play "in a day or two," but Johnson is likely to prolong the resting period.

"I don't see him playing before the weekend," Johnson said. "It's something you don't want to rush."

Around the horn

The Orioles and Detroit Tigers are having talks about a possible trade. . . . Both Luis Polonia and Jeff Huson passed through the first round of waivers, lasting 10 days. The Orioles have now placed them on irrevocable waivers and they will know by this weekend whether another team has claimed them or if they've been released. . . . Assistant general manager Kevin Malone said the Orioles have not discussed signing recently defected Cuban pitcher Osmani Fernandez and they have no discussions planned. Fernandez turns 16 on Thursday and is then a free agent and can sign with any major-league team. . . . Orioles strength and conditioning coach Tim Bishop will hold a 5K race on Aug. 24 at Camden Yards to benefit the Baltimore City Special Olympics. The race begins at 8: 30 and anyone interested should call Dave Cooley at (410) 377-8882.

Pub Date: 8/14/96

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