Ponson returns to starting line 'Closer' gets Boston start Thursday; Hammonds, Bordick sit with injuries


Orioles manager Ray Miller has sifted through his bullpen for ** another starting pitcher, this time handing rookie Sidney Ponson Thursday's assignment in Boston.

Ponson will take the rotation spot vacated when Scott Kamieniecki returned to the disabled list with stiffness in his neck. Bobby Munoz replaced Kamieniecki Saturday against Texas at Camden Yards, allowing five runs in three innings and getting no decision in the Orioles' 10-8 loss.

Miller has been using Ponson in the late innings, most recently in the eighth Saturday, when he took the loss after surrendering a two-run homer to Texas first baseman Lee Stevens that hit the roof of Boog Powell's barbecue stand beyond right field. Ponson also has started once, pitched in middle relief and picked up a save while Armando Benitez was serving his eight-game suspension.

In his previous start, Ponson lasted four innings in Chicago April 29, allowing six runs and six hits in a 16-7 loss. Among the #F damage was home runs to Wil Cordero, Albert Belle and Frank Thomas. A week ago, Miller handed Ponson the closer job, saying "if he can take charge of it, he can do it."

"I really like the idea of him relieving, but I don't like the idea of him sitting around," said Miller. "He's 20 years old [actually 21], and you may as well have a young good-looking prospect start and see where you're at."

Miller can't look beyond this start to project Ponson's future role. He's down three starters, though Mike Mussina is scheduled to pitch Saturday against Atlanta. Kamieniecki is eligible to come off the DL on June 7, leaving Miller to decide most likely between Ponson and left-hander Doug Johns to fill in for Jimmy Key.

"All things great, it would be great to have Johns and Ponson as the long men. Get a spot start here and there, but basically work long. Right now I'm just waiting for everything to level out," he said.

"Obviously, you'd like to have one more starter, but if we don't, then we'll have to go from within. And I challenged my staff and myself today to figure it out."

Ponson, a native of Aruba, has allowed 18 earned runs in his last 16 2/3 innings. He's also given up a homer in three of his last four appearances.

"I just have to go out and pitch, do my job, no matter what my role is," he said. "I'm going to see if I can go at least six innings, try to give it all I can."

This will be Ponson's first look at Fenway Park. "If you make a mistake, I've heard the ball can travel a long way," he said.

With Ponson in the rotation, Miller loses one more candidate from his committee of closers. "I'm going to have to use a combination, wherever I'm at in the lineup," he said. "If there's nobody left but one guy, he becomes the closer."

Pick a lineup, any lineup

Miller wrote out four different lineups yesterday, the last one minus shortstop Mike Bordick, who was a late scratch because of a bruised left foot. Jeff Reboulet took his place, making consecutive starts for the first time this season. After going 2-for-2 Sunday, he was 0-for-4 -- all strikeouts, tripling his season total.

Bordick's injury occurred when he fouled a ball off the foot during Sunday's game against Texas. He continued playing, then was removed for a pinch hitter in the ninth inning.

On his third lineup, Miller had to replace outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds, who is bothered by muscle spasms in his back.

The condition prohibited Hammonds from swinging the bat last night, but Miller said he still could play in the outfield, if needed. Miller was hopeful that Hammonds would be able to start today against Seattle left-hander Jamie Moyer.

"It's been like this a couple days," Hammonds said. "I'm not too well-versed in spasms. I hope it's just tonight. I plan on playing tomorrow."

Initially, Miller was going to start Joe Carter at first base and use Rafael Palmeiro as his designated hitter. Then, he decided to give Palmeiro his first night off and put Eric Davis at DH. His plans changed again when Hammonds was unable to play, forcing Miller to move Palmeiro to first, use Carter as his DH and start Davis in right field.

Palmeiro made the switch pay off going 4-for-5 with the game-winning home run. He had stranded nine runners while going 0-for-5 Sunday.

Lewis roughed up

Miller was looking to "catch lightning in a bottle" last night with right-hander Richie Lewis, who was called up from Triple-A Rochester on Saturday when Kamieniecki went on the DL. Lewis made his fifth career start, and the first since Aug. 10, 1995, while pitching for the Florida Marlins.

"Hopefully, it's a live body with a good breaking ball that can add to our mixture right now," Miller said before the game.

Lewis, 32, was roughed up in the first inning, allowing four runs and four hits -- the big blow a three-run homer by former Oriole David Segui. He yielded seven runs total in 4 1/3 innings.

This is Lewis' second stop in Baltimore. He pitched for the Orioles in 1992, going 1-1 with a 10.80 ERA in two starts.

Pub Date: 6/02/98

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