Coppinger's timetable may move up Strong outing Wednesday could mean start soon


CHICAGO -- Rocky Coppinger's four-inning return $ 1/8 performance Wednesday night may have been persuasive enough for the Orioles to immediately inject him into the starting rotation.

Recovered from the shoulder inflammation that landed him on the disabled list March 31, Coppinger exceeded the expectations of manager Davey Johnson, so much so that he may force a quick decision on which of two season-opening starters, Shawn Boskie or Scott Kamieniecki, should be bumped.

"I was looking at two, maybe three [innings]. He gave me four and a low pitch count. He had a full spring. He's not too far away from it. So I think next time he could go at least five," said Johnson, just stopping short of confirming any move.

The Orioles had anticipated using Coppinger at least twice in relief before unseating either Scott Kamieniecki or Shawn Boskie to make room. However, the stark contrast between Coppinger's four shutout innings and Boskie's eventful four-inning ride may have changed some minds. Coppinger appeared to lobby for a quick start after limiting the White Sox to three hits in the Orioles' 9-3 loss.

"I don't know what's going to happen. Nobody's told me anything," he said.

Today could factor heavily in the decision. Coppinger will throw in the bullpen for the first time since his appearance.

"We'll have to see how he throws on the side. Here's a guy who just came off the DL and gave us four innings. He may not be able to pitch," Johnson said.

Coppinger would be unable to recover quickly enough to take Kamieniecki's place in the rotation tomorrow. However, he could take Boskie's scheduled turn Sunday on four days' rest.

Early plans called for Kamieniecki, technically considered the fifth starter, to return to the role projected for him coming out of spring training. However, Kamieniecki has pitched ably, winning one of three starts and allowing only three earned runs in his last 11 innings.

"I can't control what decision they make," Kamieniecki said earlier this week. "All I can do is go out and pitch when I get the opportunity."

It remains to be seen whether Boskie will be graded on a curve for Wednesday's performance. Pitching for the first time in 11 days and with a makeshift outfield behind him, Boskie had little control and was beaten badly when he finally found the strike zone.

The slump-ridden White Sox jumped on Boskie for four first-inning runs thanks to a two-out insurrection. Three walks and a bases-clearing triple by Dave Martinez accounted for the damage.

Boskie gave up an unearned run in the second inning when right fielder Pete Incaviglia dropped a fly ball. Harold Baines and Albert Belle reached him for home runs in the third and fourth innings.

Boskie refused to use his 10-day layoff as an excuse. "I'm not even going to touch that. It doesn't matter. Once I got on the mound, my job stays the same. I just didn't do it," he said.

However, rustiness might be the only factor that rescues him from a role change.

Pub Date: 4/18/97

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