Rainouts putting a stop to Riley's starts; Postponements temporarily force rookie to bullpen


With two straight games lost to rain and at least one day off on the horizon, Orioles manager Ray Miller is faced with some decisions regarding his rotation.

He already knows that Scott Erickson, Sidney Ponson and Mike Mussina will take their regular turns, working the three-game series in Anaheim that begins tomorrow. The club is off on Monday before playing two games in Texas and most likely a make-up doubleheader next Thursday against Oakland at Camden Yards.

Matt Riley had his home debut washed out last night, and Miller said the left-hander probably will go to the bullpen until a spot opens in the rotation. Jason Johnson, who missed a start because of a blister on his right middle finger, will have more time to heal after having tomorrow's turn interrupted by the weather.

"That'll make him 100 percent," Miller said.

Riley, 20, described yesterday's rainout as "a bad break" that delayed his attempt to improve on his first start in Minnesota, when he allowed two runs, walked four, balked twice and threw 69 pitches in 2 2/3 innings.

"There's not much you can do about it. I'll just try to get them whenever they've got me scheduled again," he said.

Riley found a ray of light in the dark clouds. "Not throwing that much will be good for my arm right now. My arm's tired at this point in the year. But I want to be out there and pitch. I don't want to be pushed out of the rotation."

Riley wasn't enthusiastic about the prospect of being a reliever. "I'm not a bullpen guy. I'm a starter," he said.

"I'm primed to be a starter. I'm not good coming out of the pen because when I first start throwing it takes me an inning to get going."

The 3,000 chase

With Cal Ripken still 16 hits shy of 3,000, every game lost on the schedule looms large. The Orioles will attempt to make up the two that were rained out, but there's a chance it won't happen if the games are pushed to beyond the end of the regular season and no longer are deemed important to the A's, who remain in playoff contention.

"Those things are out of my control," Ripken said. "You can't control the weather."

Only a tropical storm could silence Ripken's bat these days. He's 11-for-20 in his last six games, including homers in the last two.

Tuesday's starter, Mike Mussina, theorized that the nerve irritation in Ripken's back that forced him on the disabled list for a second time retroactive to Aug. 1 also forced him into using a conservative stance that has proven most beneficial.

"I don't think it forced me, but it's an interesting theory," Ripken said, grinning.

"When I first started coming back and swinging the bat, I was tentative because I didn't know what to expect. And I started getting a pretty good feel in the batting cage just standing there, going easy into the ball, and all of a sudden it started to feel good and it kind of developed from there. It just put me in a nice position.

"The injury didn't force me into [the stance] but it was a starting point, I guess."

Ripken said he won't worry about whether he can get to 3,000 this season or wait through the winter perhaps only a few hits short of the milestone.

"I'm going to continue plugging away and not set that as a goal," he said. "Ideally, it would be nice to get it out of the way, but if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. I'm not going to try to change my approach. I'm enjoying how I'm playing and how I'm swinging the bat and I'd like to continue enjoying that on a daily basis."

Miller said it already has been established that Ripken will remain in the lineup regardless of what time the games begin. Earlier, he had vowed not to play Ripken in days games following night games, but his surge at the plate and assurances that his back is fine have altered those plans.

Pickering ready

Calvin Pickering would have served as the designated hitter last night if not for the rain. A virus that had weakened him on Monday and limited him to being a ninth-inning replacement the following night almost has left his system.

"I've got something that's going around, from the change in the weather. I've still got a head cold but I feel a lot better than I did the last few days," he said.

Pickering, 22, still is waiting for a start at first base. He's served as the DH twice and been used as a pinch-hitter during a May call-up.

"I'm just trying to do my best no matter what," said Pickering, whose progress through the farm system was slowed by injuries this season. 'I'm not putting pressure on myself. I'm just trying to relax and do my best."

Because of his struggles at Rochester, one season after being named the Eastern League's Player of the Year at Double-A Bowie, Pickering was bypassed for Derrick May when the Orioles needed a left-handed bat last month.

"I wasn't disappointed because I knew that's part of the game," Pickering said. "I had a job to do down at Triple-A, so I didn't see a problem with that. I knew when the time was right for me to be here, it would be time."

Pickering said he feels ready to receive those steady at-bats at the major-league level, "but I don't make that decision."

"I love Baltimore," he said. "They've taken care of me since Day 1. I have a lot of respect for all the coaches and the front office. I've just got to come out here and keep playing and show them I'm ready to go."

Pub Date: 9/16/99

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