Busy career elevator takes Bones to floor O; Ex-Opening Day starter content with lesser role; Ponson gets OK to run


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Ricky Bones has made consecutive starts on Opening Day and pitched for a team that won the World Series. He's also ridden the escalator down to the minor leagues, with no easy climb back up.

If nothing else, Bones has proved he can adapt to any situation. Ace in a rotation, viable option in the minors. Full-time starter, full-time reliever. Just give him the ball.

The Orioles have handed it to Bones, signing him to a one-year contract in late December with no assurances where his role is concerned. He could start if needed, or work in long and middle relief, offering the kind of flexibility manager Ray Miller craved last season.

Bones, 29, began last season with the Minnesota Twins' Triple-A affiliate in Salt Lake City. Exercising a clause in his contract that stated he could become a free agent if not called up in 30 days, he signed with the Kansas City Royals on May 25 and resurfaced in the majors on June 16.

Having started 162 games since breaking into the majors in 1991, Bones worked exclusively in relief for the Royals for the first time in his career. He appeared in 32 games, going 2-2 with a 3.04 ERA in 53 1/3 innings.

It was quite a switch from his five seasons in Milwaukee, where he started on Opening Day in 1995 and '96. Since then, he's been traded, released and shuffled around the minors.

"I guess God wanted me to go through the process," he said. "I have no regrets."

Bones has put a positive spin on pitching out of the bullpen.

"It's something new in my career and I enjoy it," he said. "My arm has responded real good. I pitched five days in a row [last year] and I had no problem.

"I was told that I was going to come over here as a starter if I was needed, and if not I'd be in the bullpen. I'm just looking forward to helping the team in any role. I'll be ready for any situation."

Ponson back in running

Pitcher Sidney Ponson, who came down with shin splints, has been told by trainer Richie Bancells that he should be able to resume running this morning.

"It's getting better day by day," Ponson said.

Ponson, 22, has been riding a stationary bike and was impressive throwing last week. He's been treating the condition, which came from the pounding his legs took while running here, with ice and rest. "I was running on the treadmill [in Baltimore], but running on the ground was a different thing," he said.

For now, Ponson is expected to be the No. 5 starter after appearing in 31 games (20 starts) as a rookie last season and going 8-9 with a 5.27 ERA. But Miller has left open the possibility that Ponson's education could continue in the bullpen if another starter is obtained.

"That's Ray's decision," Ponson said. "I don't even know if I'm going to make the team yet. I have to make it first. If I do, I have to fill the role they give me.

"Last year was a learning thing and I still have to learn a lot."

Clyburn fights for spot

Danny Clyburn doesn't have anything else to prove in the minor leagues. If only it were that simple.

The Orioles don't appear to have an opening for the muscular outfielder, and since he still has an option left, the writing is on the wall. Barring a trade, it seems likely that Clyburn, 24, again will be wearing a Rochester uniform.

It was a good fit for him last year. Clyburn's season didn't begin until May 28 because of a fractured left foot suffered in spring training, but he hit .286 with 14 homers, 54 RBIs and 11 stolen bases in 84 games.

The Orioles called him up for the second time in two seasons on Aug. 28, and he belted his first major-league home run off Boston's Tim Wakefield. Demonstrating his strength, Clyburn cleared the Green Monster at Fenway Park despite being jammed.

Like with the other young players, Miller has told Clyburn to approach camp as if he's going to make the team.

"That's all I can do, especially with the option left," Clyburn said. "I really can't worry about that now. If I do, I'm not going to perform. The best thing for me to do is work hard, and if I catch a break, I catch a break. It's up to them, but I'm going to fight."

Moose call

Mike Mussina will start the first intrasquad game on Tuesday and again in the first exhibition game Saturday on three days' rest.

Miller said he wants to play his A lineup in the first and third intrasquad games, against his B lineup, for about five innings.

"And then you've still got some guys in camp who are left over," Miller said. "They go in and play three innings, so it's like eight innings of play. The next day the B lineup plays against the kids."

The Orioles will play four intrasquad games. They have five fewer exhibition games than last year.

Pub Date: 2/28/99

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