Projected No. 4 starter Rocky Coppinger will pitch a three-inning simulated game today and hopes the session represents his final step toward rejoining the Orioles.
Roster considerations, though, may muddy the process.
Coppinger, who tried to pitch through discomfort during spring training, has been on the disabled list since March 31 due to inflammation in his right shoulder. Today's effort comes three days after he had a pain-free, 20-minute bullpen session in Kansas City. There, he threw with maximum effort for the first time in two weeks.
Coppinger hopes to rejoin the team immediately, but there may be sentiment for him to make at least one minor-league rehab assignment. To create space for Coppinger, the Orioles face a difficult roster move. There is no desire to tinker with a balanced bullpen. Should they attempt to option 21-year-old Mike Johnson, obtained in last December's Rule 5 draft from the Toronto Blue Jays, their AL East rival could reclaim him for $25,000. Alan Mills remains unavailable after suffering a pinched nerve in a pre-game collision with Lenny Webster on Friday. However, the Orioles do not believe Mills will require a stay on the disabled list.
When Coppinger returns to the rotation, it probably will necessitate a move involving Scott Kamieniecki or Shawn Boskie. Kamieniecki has pitched well in two starts. Boskie hasn't pitched since surrendering four runs in four innings against Texas on April 5.
Coppinger, meanwhile, remains in limbo. "I wish they would hurry up and let me know what's going on," he said yesterday.
The Orioles will see how Coppinger recovers from today's outing. The decision likely will come April 16, the same day Boskie is scheduled to start in Chicago.
Alomar would have rested
Roberto Alomar wasn't in yesterday's lineup after starting the last three games and going 4-for-12. Jeff Reboulet would have started at second base, as he did during Alomar's five-game suspension.
Johnson said he was taking another precaution with Alomar, who played in only three exhibition games because of a badly sprained ankle. Johnson also removed Alomar for a pinch-runner Friday night.
"I'll be cautious. It ain't August," Johnson said.
For Reboulet, returning to the bench after being a starter the first week wasn't that difficult. It's the same thing he goes through after every spring training.
"It just so happens I got five starts before slipping into the utility role. It's all relative," he said.
"You just go out and play. I try not to worry about getting at-bats or anything else. I just want to be ready when I'm called upon."
Reboulet, who spent five seasons in Minnesota before signing with the Orioles in late January, is batting .263 (5-for-19) with three runs scored, three walks and three RBIs. He hit .333 in spring training and played five positions.
Most important to Reboulet is that the Orioles went 4-1 while he started in place of Alomar. "If I had been hitting .800 and we were 1-4, I wouldn't be happy. If I'm hitting .150 and we're 4-1 or 5-0, I'm happy. As long as I'm not causing the team to have problems, like if I'm booting balls on defense," he said.
"I take a lot of pride in my defense. I think if I do my defensive job, the rest is gravy. Obviously, I'm supposed to get hits, but I'm not going to be the designated hitter on this team. You've got to know your role and know what you're capable of doing."
A Key man
As expected, Bill Ripken was in the Texas lineup yesterday at shortstop because of his .357 lifetime average against left-hander Jimmy Key and Benji Gil's strained right groin muscle. But the former Oriole said he had no idea that he hit Key so well until told by reporters.
"Is that true?" said Ripken, who is 10-for-28 against Key. "I know I had faced him a few times, but I can't remember that many [hits]. That's pretty good.
"When you're a utility player, you're just happy every time you get an opportunity to play."
Ripken, who batted .230 in 57 games with the Orioles last season, on Thursday made his first major-league start at shortstop since June 1993, during his first tour with the Rangers.
"It doesn't matter where you play. When you get the chance, you've got to go out there and be ready," he said.
Ripken still has a home in Fallston, which gives him a place to stay when the Rangers come to Baltimore. "It kind of breaks up the road trip," he said.
He hasn't gotten much of a chance to visit with his brother, Cal.
"I talked to him a little bit [Friday]. We really don't have that much time because he's got to do his stuff. It's easier when you're in the same clubhouse," he said.
"We'll talk a couple times during the season when we're not playing each other."
Out of control
It wasn't a mystery to Johnson why reliever Armando Benitez couldn't finish the ninth inning of Friday night's 9-3 win over the Rangers. Benitez kept dropping his arm, and his control suffered.
"He hasn't had a lot of work yet," Johnson said. "Hard throwers, you've got to live with that occasionally. He's got pretty good control. I don't worry about it too much."
Benitez got through the eighth inning unscathed, walking former Oriole Damon Buford with one out before retiring the next two batters. But he allowed a single to Ivan Rodriguez to open the ninth, struck out Rusty Greer, and walked the next three hitters to force in a run. With Benitez's pitch count at 41 and the remaining Camden Yards crowd growing restless, Johnson brought in Terry Mathews to mop up.
Benitez was charged with two earned runs.
Around the horn
Eric Davis was back in the lineup yesterday after sitting out Friday's game with a sore knee. Former Oriole Mike Devereaux is batting .366 (15-for-41) with two home runs lifetime against Key. Another former Oriole, second baseman Mark McLemore, is 5-for-15 (.333) with two RBIs. There are 5,000 tickets remaining for today's game, 10,000 for Monday's game against the Minnesota Twins, and 9,000 for Tuesday. Actress Lynda Carter will throw out the first pitch before tomorrow night's game as part of the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
Pub Date: 4/13/97