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Werth's place is behind the plate; Etchebarren: Catcher will not be moving to outfield for Baysox; Minor League Notebook

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Forget the thought about one of the Orioles' prime prospects moving to the outfield. Jayson Werth is a catcher, period.

"Don't even think about a shift," said his manager at Bowie and current catching mentor, Andy Etchebarren. "No one has given up on him becoming a big-league catcher. I don't ever think he'll throw to second in 1.9 [seconds). But he'll be around 2.0 and that's good enough if he 's accurate with his throws."

Said Werth: "A catcher is what I've always wanted to be. If I keep on progressing, I should be able to do it. I've only played in the outfield seven games in my whole life. It would probably take a couple of years just to find out what that's about."

Werth's rangy build (6 feet 5, 190 pounds) and need for polish behind the plate led to the notion that he might be better served by switching positions. At age 20, the 1997 first-round draft choice has excellent speed and is a gifted natural hitter. The only question is where he'll play in the big leagues.

But he also has had the benefit of tutelage from former major-league catchers Joe Ferguson and Etchebarren during his minor-league rise and hands-on learning from Charles Johnson at the Orioles' spring training camp.

"His receiving has to improve," Etchebarren said. "It's not so much that he can't do it. He just has to be prepared to block every pitch. He can't think every one is going to be good and react to a bad one. He has a habit of sitting on the inside of his feet, so his butt's too low. It's easier to be quick back there when your backside is up."

Werth's arm strength, throwing and footwork have progressed. He studies hitters, but he needs to realize more how much control he has of the game. That will come with experience and maturity.

After batting .305 at Single-A Frederick, Werth was promoted to Bowie at midseason last year. He proceeded to hit .388 for the Baysox in July before an errant throw broke his right wrist. This season, he is among the Eastern League leaders in steals and has a team-leading 13 walks but is mired in a 2-for-24 slump.

He said the injury setback "wasn't that big in the overall picture. I was disappointed and who knows what would have happened."

The hand didn't completely heal and he missed the Arizona Fall League because he needed more rehabilitation.

"That was probably the most upsetting thing," he said. "I really could have made up some ground."

Said Etchebarren: "God's blessed him with a great pair of hands. He can be fooled and still keep his hands back. With two strikes, he's not at a disadvantage because he hits so well to right field. He knows how to give in and doesn't panic."

That's why catching is probably how he'll enter the bigs.

"In time, it will all come together," Werth said. "For now, Etch keeps me on my toes."

Triple-A Rochester

Jerry Hairston was directly affected by the Orioles' acquisition of Mark Lewis, a move that did not make him happy. "I feel bad for Jesse [Garcia, who returned to Rochester]. It's disappointing. I don't know why the Orioles made the move with Lewis. I did everything I could this spring. All I can say is there are 29 other teams out there who might want me," said Hairston, who is playing spectacular defense and batting a creditable .265 from the leadoff or second spot. ... The Red Wings entered Easter Sunday as one of only four teams in baseball without a save before Gabe Molina got one. ...Ryan Minor has four of the team's International League-low eight home runs and is second in the league with 17 RBIs. ... On the other end, Calvin Pickering is 0-for-12 against left-handers (he batted .185 against them last year), is hitting .167 and struck out to both start and end a big Red Wings inning at Syracuse. ... A visit to Dr. James Andrews confirmed Matt Riley's strained rotator cuff. He is out at least three more weeks. ... Eugene Kingsale is expected to join the team in about a week from extended spring training. ... Howie Clark went 3-for-4 with two runs and a sacrifice in his first Rochester game. ... Josh Towers has walked only four in 22 innings, but he has been touched for five homers. ... IF Nate Tebbs was the first player released.

Double-A Bowie

Matt Snyder broke the Baysox career strikeout record last week with nine in a game, raising his total to 208. Rick Forney had the previous mark at 202. ... Darnell McDonald, one of only two Bowie regulars batting better at home than on the road, unleashed a 13-game hitting streak. That tied for Bowie's longest of 1999 (Wady Almonte). ... Entering the weekend, Bowie was hitting .213 at Prince George's Stadium and .308 at rival parks. That accounted for a 1-5 home record and 9-4 on the road. ... Pitcher Mike Bell was released, and Neil Weber was signed to replace him. Weber was 6-2 with a 1.55 ERA against the Baysox with Harrisburg several years ago. He had a brief stay in the majors at Arizona. ... Orioles legend Earl Weaver is scheduled to attend the Double-A All-Star Game in Bowie on July 12. ... Infielder Brian Rust was sent to Frederick.

Single-A Frederick

A six-game losing streak ended for the Keys the night after Scott Erickson pitched at Grove Stadium. Franky Figueroa, who leads the Carolina League with 22 RBIs, hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to win it. ... Erickson's appearance drew the Keys' biggest crowd of the season, 5,003. ... The hottest Frederick player has been Papy Ndungidi, who hit safely in 11 of 13 games at a .375 clip with six doubles and four homers. Ndungidi took over a share of the league home run lead with five. ... Tim Raines continues to steal almost at will. He has 25 swipes in 21 games and has been caught twice. ... The Keys have undergone a number of personnel changes after their top pitcher, Juan Guzman, was promoted to Bowie. Outfielder Larry Bigbie (hamstring) and pitcher Richard Negrette (back) are both on the disabled list. Activated were pitcher Jacobo Sequea and Sean Jones.

Single-A Delmarva

The Shorebirds have been struggling, losing five straight and seven of 10. Typical of their problems recently was a 1-0, 10-innning loss to Columbus in which Richard Stahl (six innings, nine strikeouts) and Matt Schwager combined on a no-hitter for nine. ... Entering the weekend, they were 5-4 on the road but only 3-8 at Perdue Stadium, where they have had three rainouts. ... Ed Rodgers joined the team from extended spring and has been excelling at shortstop on defense. He brings stability to a team with 28 errors in 20 games. ... Willie Harris is tied for the South Atlantic League lead with 22 runs, and Stahl is 10th with a 1.89 ERA. .... Offense has been lacking despite a season-high 17-run outburst in one game. The team average is .234.

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