O's search for starters not finished New front-line pitcher is needed to bolster rotation, Gillick says; GM eyes deal by midseason; He'd prefer Erickson at No. 4, Coppinger 5


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Every day, players and coaches rave about the number of quality pitchers the Orioles have in training camp. But that hasn't changed general manager Pat Gillick's belief that the team will need another front-line starting pitcher before the end of the season.

Gillick said yesterday that to improve the Orioles, a team he already believes is going to be good, he'd like to slide someone between No. 2 starter Jimmy Key and No. 3 Scott Erickson and move second-year man Rocky Coppinger to the fifth slot.

"I don't see much use in going out and trying to get a No. 5," Gillick said. "We probably have a No. 5 here. We'd like to go out and look for a guy with a higher ceiling.

"What I'd like to do is shove Coppinger to No. 5."

Four-fifths of the Orioles' rotation is set, with Mike Mussina, Key, Erickson and Coppinger, and the team has a number of candidates for the fifth spot; Shawn Boskie is the front-runner, with Scott Kamieniecki, Rick Krivda, Jimmy Haynes and Brian Williams also in the mix.

The Orioles also have a handful of minor-league pitchers they believe could contribute by the end of this season, led by Sidney Ponson and Nerio Rodriguez.

But what Gillick is looking for is a very good major-league pitcher who would improve the overall quality of the rotation.

lTC Several high-quality pitchers likely will become available before the July 31 trade deadline. The Phillies are expected to deal ace Curt Schilling sometime after the regular season begins, with the Yankees considered his most probable destination because New York can offer outfielder Ruben Rivera.

Montreal right-hander Pedro Martinez is a high-priced pitcher on a low-budget team who, if he stays with the Expos, inevitably would be headed for free agency after the 1998 season. Orioles assistant GM Kevin Malone, once the GM of the Expos, is very familiar with Martinez.

Others who may possibly end up on the trading block include Houston's Darryl Kile and Anaheim's Chuck Finley.

The Orioles' renewed pitching depth won't provide the type of pitcher Gillick is looking for, but it may help him make the deal he wants.

Last summer, Gillick repeatedly lamented the fact that he had little trade bait in the minors, saying he had no "bullets" to shoot.

Now, the Orioles are loaded and ready to fire if the right deal comes along.

Pub Date: 2/25/97

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