Ponson one out away from reaching goal; 22-year-old sets sights on getting 200 innings for 1st time in career


ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Sidney Ponson is projected for three more starts that will carry him beyond 200 innings for the first time in his young career and possibly to 15 wins. Less than two years after ending a troubling season at Double-A Bowie, Ponson, 22, could conceivably join Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson to give the Orioles a 15-win triumvirate for the second time in three seasons.

"I've had a pretty good year," said Ponson. "Coming into the season I had one goal -- to get 200 innings. I've got that. I didn't set a goal for wins because you really can't control wins and losses. If you pitch really well you can. I'm a little bit worn down now, but I've got three more starts. If I can win two of those and get seven innings in every time, I think that would be a good way to finish."

Before this season Ponson had never worked more than the 140 he worked in 1998. His record at 12-11 after beating the floundering Anaheim Angels, 6-3, on Saturday night, Ponson has established personal highs in wins, starts and complete games.

The first out of Ponson's start Thursday afternoon against the Oakland Athletics will take him to 200 innings. He needs to win each of his last three starts to become the Orioles' youngest 15-game winner since Jim Palmer, at 20 years and 11 months, won 15 in 1966.

Manager Ray Miller acknowledges that next year may be Ponson's true coming-out.

"You look at most talented young pitchers and they're usually at .500 after their first two years," said Miller, who has seen his share. "After that, you start to see a kind of breakthrough. With Sidney, it's all based on what kind of shape he's in. He certainly has a good arm."

Comparing Ponson, 6 feet 1 and 225 pounds, favorably to beefy ex-Oriole Rocky Coppinger, Miller said, "You can't tell me Rocky's problems aren't attributable to all that stress the weight puts on his legs."

Ponson intends to immerse himself in a conditioning regimen this off-season to avoid a recurrence of this year's sluggish spring and halting April.

Winning for the first time since August, Ponson stranded five runners in the first three innings as the Orioles built a 4-2 lead against scatter-armed Angels starter Brian Cooper (1-1).

Ponson sidestepped a first-inning calamity when the Angels loaded the bases and scored a run before their first out. Ponson collected himself following a visit from Miller and got through six innings on 87 pitches.

"I like the way he kept control of things," said Miller. "He could've really blown up."

Draftees perform for Wren

During a month devoted to the future, general manager Frank Wren and Miller received a glimpse this weekend of draft-and-follow pitchers Shane Warhoff and Matt Larson.

Warhoff was the Orioles' 21st-round selection and Larson the 26th-round pick in this year's amateur draft. Both players chose to attend junior college rather than sign immediately -- a course also chosen by Matt Riley following the '97 draft. The two may still sign in the window between the completion of their school year and the 2000 draft.

"It's another chance for younger players to go somewhere, gain some additional experience, mature and perhaps improve their standing before the next draft," said Wren.

Belle, Ripken stifled

Saturday's season-high 10th straight win also included a pair of losses.

Albert Belle's 15-game hitting streak came to an end with an 0-for-4 that also included two RBIs. Belle is hitting .403 (27-for-67) in his last 17 games, including last night's 1-for-4.

Belle also is closing in on an Oriole novelty. He needs only two runs and six walks to become the team's first player in team history to compile 100 RBIs, 100 runs and 100 walks in the same season. Eddie Murray came closest in 1984 when he produced 110 RBIs, 107 walks and 97 runs.

Cal Ripken also hit a pothole en route to 3,000 career hits when he suffered an 0-for-5 on Saturday, including hitting into a double play and not getting a ball out of the infield. It brought an end to his seven-game hitting streak. Last night, however, Ripken went 3-for-4 and now has 2,990 hits with 14 games remaining.

'Pen mightier

Mike Timlin's 23rd save Saturday night continued the bullpen's second-half rehabilitation. While the pen has blown 26 saves this season, only five have occurred since July 7.

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