Though Chris Hoiles retains the job description of No. 1 catcher for the Orioles, manager Ray Miller took away another chunk of his playing time yesterday when he started Lenny Webster with Scott Kamieniecki on the mound.
Webster usually catches Scott Erickson, as he did Saturday night, and Doug Drabek. Drabek starts tonight, and unless Miller makes another change, Webster will get a third consecutive assignment.
Miller reasoned yesterday that he wanted to "mix it up a little bit" after Hoiles and Kamieniecki had some problems with pitch selection Tuesday in Minnesota. Kamieniecki shook off Hoiles more than usual.
"The last time they looked like they were having a little trouble, taking too long to get signs. I thought I'd just give him a different guy, a different look," Miller said.
Asked if the change was a one-time occurrence, he said, "Probably so."
Hoiles didn't seek an explanation from Miller. "It's his decision. Whatever he wants to do," he said. "I guess if he thought we had a problem out there last time, he made the decision. There's nothing I can do about it.
"Everybody goes through stages like that. What's one time? From start to start they may have something one time that they don't have the next time. To me, it's no big deal at all. Obviously, he thinks it is. I don't know how you can base that on one outing."
Said Webster: "I don't know what the significance of this is. Maybe the manager just feels like I need to be in the lineup."
The move coincided with Hoiles' slump. He has only six hits in his last 37 at-bats, lowering his average from .270 to .222, and has no extra-base hits and one RBI since April 21.
Bothered by a sore elbow since late last season, Webster recently told Miller he was feeling better and could play whenever needed. Miller, in turn, started Webster yesterday after a night game.
"It's about 90, getting toward 95 percent," said Webster, who went 1-for-4 and threw out a runner at third. "I've got more velocity and I'm getting minimal pain when I throw now. There's not that shocking feeling I was getting before. I've come a long way from spring training and last year."
Mathews mends, but slowly
Having made it through three days of light tossing without a problem, reliever Terry Mathews said he might throw from the bullpen mound before tonight's game.
Mathews had his right wrist taped while playing catch with pitching coach Mike Flanagan on Thursday, but didn't restrict it the next two days. He took yesterday off.
"Right now, the wrist is ready to go," he said. "It's just that my shoulder is a whole lot weaker than what I thought it would have been after not throwing for so long."
Mathews went on the disabled list May 2 with inflammation in the wrist. With the move retroactive to April 30, he was eligible to come off Friday but isn't close to being ready.
"It's like starting spring training. Everything's got to be built back up to throwing strength. My shoulder now is where it is after starting to throw in January. It looks like it's going to be longer than what I expected," he said.
Mathews estimated a rehab start in the minors to be "at least a couple of weeks away."
Ripken moves up
Cal Ripken moved past Ed Delahanty, and into a tie with Willie Mays for 27th place on baseball's all-time doubles list with 523 when he sliced a pitch from rookie Jason Johnson into the right-field corner in the second inning.
He also broke a tie with Eddie Mathews for 38th place in extra-base hits with 939, one behind Dave Parker.
It was Ripken's first hit in the series, and the first time he had gotten the ball out of the infield. Since going 4-for-4 in Minnesota on May 12, he had been 1-for-15, dropping his average to .253.
Miller noted how pitchers are pounding Ripken inside more often. "That's not a bad thing to do with a lot of people. I wish we would do it more," he said.
"The one thing about Cal and the streak, the streak's there for more than one reason. In order to play that long you have to make some adjustments. If you continue to get Cal, one way or another, he'll make the adjustment.
"I'm very comfortable writing his name down every day. I just wish we had more back-to-back off days once in a while just to freshen him up."
Ripken, who played in his 2,520th consecutive game yesterday, tied Sal Bando for 73rd place in all-time walks with 1,031.
Murray fills in at first
Eddie Murray left the bench again to fill in for first base coach Carlos Bernhardt, whose right eye still was puffy from being hit by a warm-up toss Saturday night. Bernhardt said he would be back on the field tonight.
Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 7: 05
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Devil Rays' Tony Saunders (1-4, 3.80) vs. O's Doug Drabek (3-4, 6.20)
Tickets: 3,500 remain
The Orioles had the best record in baseball (along with the Cleveland Indians) at 10-2 on April 14. Here's a look at the teams with the best and worst records since then, along with the teams' payrolls (in millions):
The best. . .
.................... W-L ..... Pct. ..... Payroll
N.Y. Yankees ....... 22-5 .... .815 ..... $63.5
Atlanta ............ 24-7 .... .774 ..... 59.5
Houston ............ 20-8 .... .714 ..... 40.6
Boston ............. 19-10 ... .655 ..... 51.6
San Diego .......... 18-11 ... .621 ..... 45.4
. . . and worst
Arizona ............ 9-20 .... .310 ..... 30.6
Orioles ............ 10-20 ... .333 ..... 69.0
Kansas City ........ 11-18 ... .379 ..... 33.0
Minnesota .......... 11-18 ... .379 ..... 26.2
Florida ............ 12-19 ... .387 ..... 33.4
Pub Date: 5/18/98