The Orioles' training room removed its outfielders-only sign yesterday.

Jimmy Key's start tonight is in jeopardy after the left-hander reported waking yesterday morning with neck stiffness.

Key, 3-0 in his first four starts, would switch assignments with tomorrow's scheduled starter, Scott Erickson, if the condition persists. Key spent several hours receiving treatment for the stiffness before last night's game.

"It's not an issue right now. Not until I can't pitch. I'm receiving treatment and I hope I'll be OK for [tonight]. We'll just have to wait and see," said Key.

If the pitchers are flopped, Erickson would become the first starter to appear on short rest this year. He suffered a 4-2 loss to the Red Sox on Monday in which he surrendered four runs (three earned) in 5 1/3 innings.

Reboulet back at second

Despite fouling a pitch off his left ankle Wednesday night, Jeff Reboulet was back in last night's lineup at a more familiar position.

Given a rare start at shortstop to spell slumping Mike Bordick, Reboulet endured a tough night against the Chicago White Sox. He was nearly forced from the game in the second inning after taking a shot just above his left ankle. Reboulet remained down for several minutes, then hobbled to his feet. The area swelled immediately, prompting Bordick to remove his jacket in anticipation of entering the game. Reboulet remained, going 0-for-4 with a strikeout.

"It wasn't a great night but I survived it," said Reboulet, who was given last night's start to afford Roberto Alomar's left ankle some down time. "For a minute, I thought it was broken but [trainer] Richie [Bancells] said it hit high enough that it would have had to break the big bone."

Reboulet's ankle was fitted with a U-shaped protective guard. Meanwhile, the area is a deep shade of black and blue.

"If it happens again [without the guard], I'm in trouble," he said.

Johnson backs Coppinger

Rocky Coppinger's rough ride through 2 2/3 innings did not diminish manager Davey Johnson's faith in his No. 4 starter. However, it may delay his next start. Coppinger walked six and allowed six earned runs but received no decision in a 10-inning, 11-9 loss to the White Sox.

Reminded of the pitcher's stay on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, Johnson played down the possibility of Coppinger still pitching with pain.

"He just looked like he was overtrying. I mean, he was really overtrying. He was overthrowing. I thought it was just bad pitch selection on the home runs, besides the location. And then after that, he just started overthrowing," said Johnson. "Rocky's such a competitor and so intense, and he's still very young as a pitcher."

"He just kept battling everything. He never got into any type of rhythm. He never got ahead of anybody."

Coppinger's next start is uncertain. The Orioles receive a day off Monday before heading to Minnesota for a three-game series. Johnson could either start Coppinger on Tuesday or push him back to a May 3 home game against the Oakland A's.

Improvement for Surhoff

Left fielder B. J. Surhoff felt his injured left groin muscle had improved significantly, further diminishing the chances that the team's insurance policy, Tony Tarasco, would be added to the 25-man roster.

Surhoff hit off a batting tee but has yet to run since suffering the pull in the seventh Tuesday. He will undergo further testing by team trainers the next two days.

If such assurances can't be made, the club can disable Surhoff retroactive to April 23. "I really haven't tested it yet. I'm just taking little steps right now," said Surhoff."

Shawn Boskie, who came north as the Orioles' fifth starter but since has been relegated to the bullpen, attributed Wednesday's poor outing against the Chicago White Sox mostly to a lack of command on his fastball.

Boskie, who signed as a free agent in December, allowed three runs and eight hits in 3 1/3 innings, lifting his ERA to 11.91.

"One of my strengths is pretty good command on my fastball. When I don't have it, I'm not going to blow guys out of the water. But I've been doing this long enough that I'll get it," he said.

"The team is playing well, so I'm not the focus, which is good. When a team is losing, then people start looking at who's struggling."

Mike Johnson gets chance

Reliever Mike Johnson made his major-league debut in Texas on April 6, then waited patiently for his next opportunity.

And waited.

The Rule 5 draftee finally got into another game Wednesday, throwing a scoreless seventh inning. The first batter he faced, Ron Karkovice, flied out to deep left, and Ozzie Guillen drew a walk. But Johnson struck out Ray Durham and retired Tony Phillips on a fly ball.

The Orioles scored five runs in the bottom of the inning to tie the game, and Davey Johnson called upon veteran Terry Mathews. Mike Johnson's stay was brief, but satisfying.

"I wasn't nervous. I was probably more anxious than anything," he said after lowering his ERA to 3.60. "For the amount of time I had off, I was pretty happy, and I think everybody was pretty happy with the way I threw."

Pitching coach Ray Miller pointed out that Johnson still has a lot to learn, which should be expected of a 21-year-old who pitched in Single-A last season.

Around the horn

Last night's game was delayed 20 minutes by a passing shower. Bordick made his first error since April 9, and third overall, when he failed to catch a foul pop from Darren Bragg in the seventh Eric Davis' ninth career grand slam Wednesday put him in a fifth-place tie among active players. Eddie Murray (19), Harold Baines (12), Danny Tartabull (11) and Cecil Fielder (10) lead him. Robin Ventura and Gary Gaetti are tied with him. About 2,600 tickets remain for tonight, 400 for tomorrow and 1,200 for Sunday. Rochester right-hander Nerio Rodriguez allowed one hit, a seventh-inning bunt single by Shawn Gilbert, in eight innings yesterday as the Triple-A Red Wings topped the Norfolk Tides, 1-0. Cal Ripken entered last night's game batting .393 (22-for-56) against right-handed pitching, .214 (3-for-14) against left-handers. Before last night, the Red Sox were leading the AL in batting at .297.

Pub Date: 4/25/97

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