Coppinger, Rogers escape 'pen to start Game 4 O's rookie far from rocky in Sept.; N.Y. veteran is 2-0 with 3.25 ERA vs. O's

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Rocky Coppinger and Kenny Rogers came into the American League Championship Series expecting to be relegated to the bullpen.

The Orioles and the New York Yankees appeared ready to go with three-man starting staffs, so Coppinger, the 22-year-old rookie, and Rogers, the veteran criticized for being soft in big games, were going to be the odd men out.

But the postponement of Tuesday's night opener means they are squaring off in Game 4 of the ALCS. Neither pitcher has much postseason experience, but they now command a national stage.

Coppinger warmed up in the bullpen a few times during the Division Series but said he was getting frustrated by his lack of work.

Rogers made one start in the Division Series, but was tagged for five hits and two earned runs in two innings by the Texas Rangers, his former team, and said he felt that he was yanked too soon.

They both have the opportunity now to step up and prove they're big-game pitchers.

Coppinger was at his best in September, allowing just two runs in his last two starts (15 1/3 innings). He hasn't pitched in 16 days, but Coppinger and Orioles manager Davey Johnson said they're not worried about the long layoff.

"Rocky probably pitched as good a couple of games down the stretch as any pitchers in our rotation," Johnson said. "He's a very mature youngster. He's got good stuff I think he's matured a great deal and I think he's not going to be intimidated by the situation, and that's one of the things in his favor."

The Yankees acquired Rogers in the off-season hoping he'd help their pennant run, but Rogers was maligned for not challenging hitters and being too passive.

He was shifted in and out of the bullpen during the season and battled through shoulder problems. Yankees manager Joe Torre said he believes his starter can put that behind him and is hoping for five or six strong innings.

Rogers' 12-8 record and 4.68 ERA were disappointing, but he was 2-0 with a 3.25 ERA against the Orioles, including a big win in the first game of a late September doubleheader that basically locked up the division title for the Yankees.

"It's big [for Kenny]," Torre said. "He's champing at the bit. He's going to give it all he has and I don't have a problem looking forward to him pitching because of what he's been able to give us."

Pub Date: 10/12/96

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