Rumors just another distraction for reeling O's; Hargrove aims for focus amid all the trade talk


BOSTON - As trade rumors continue to swirl around his ballclub, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove is trying to keep the season from spiraling out of control.

The trick is preventing certain players from becoming too distracted and maintaining everyone's focus on reversing an 8-16 June that included last night's 6-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox.

Tied for last place, if the Orioles are going to make a run to daylight, they've all got to be going in the same direction.

"I'm sure they find it distracting, but I think everybody's professional enough to know it's part of the business," Hargrove said before last night's game.

"No matter who you are, how long you've been somewhere or how successful you've been, your name's going to be mentioned whether the rumor is true or not. And you just learn to deal with it when it happens.

"Is it distracting? To a certain extent I imagine it is. I don't think it's disruptive, though."

Hargrove talks daily with Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations, to keep apprised of potential trades and offer his input.

"Usually we'll talk twice a day about what's going on," Hargrove said. "I know that Syd's very busy and I'm aware of most of the things that he's doing."

Amaral's leg passes 1st test

Outfielder Rich Amaral did some light running yesterday for the first time since going on the disabled list retroactive to June 15 with a strained left calf muscle.

Though reporting no discomfort in the leg, Amaral couldn't project when he'd be ready to return to the 25-man roster. He's eligible to come off the disabled list on Friday, when the Orioles begin a four-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards.

"It felt fine," he said, "but I have no idea [about Friday]."

Amaral's first attempt to gauge his recovery was limited to jogging in the wet outfield at Fenway Park, as rain continued to fall. Until then, he didn't know how the calf would respond.

"It's something that I don't even test. I feel nothing when I walk. The test was when I ran," he said.

Amaral went 2-for-4 in his last game, including a walk, two RBIs and two runs scored, on June 14 against Texas. He's still unsure how the injury occurred, but knew there was something wrong the next morning. The Orioles placed him on the disabled list on June 18.

Outfielder Luis Matos was called up from Double-A Bowie to take Amaral's place. He started the next two games in center field because of Brady Anderson's sore quadriceps, stealing a base and scoring a run in his debut. He also started Saturday's game in Seattle, and is hitless in 10 at-bats.

"I'm really enjoying myself, and when we start winning it'll be more fun," said Matos, 21, who was batting .417 with 10 RBIs in his last 10 games before being recalled.

Trombley reports for duty

Mike Trombley pronounced himself ready to pitch yesterday after missing the first seven games of this road trip because of strep throat.

He had remained at the team hotel for the first two games in Oakland before regaining enough strenght to begin some light throwing in Seattle.

Trombley hadn't entered a game since June 17, and Hargrove was hoping that the reliever's first outing would be in a nonpressure situation. But Hargrove added, "We may not have that luxury."

His words proved prophetic hours later when Trombley got his first call in the toughest situation possible - bases loaded with two outs in the ninth. He got Jose Offerman to ground out to force extra innings.

"If I don't get him, it's over," Trombley said. "I was surprised that I had pretty good stuff even with the nine days off."

In his previous appearance, Trombley allowed a home run to Anaheim's Mo Vaughn in the eighth inning of an 8-3 loss. It was the 10th homer he had served up in 27 2/3 innings, fourth on the team behind starters Mike Mussina (18), Sidney Ponson (15) and Jason Johnson (12). The Orioles headed west the following night, and Trombley's health went south.

"I feel a lot better. It's over," he said.

Starting at bottom rung

The Orioles have signed 16 players chosen in the 2000 draft, including high school third baseman Tripper Johnson, their sandwich pick between the first and second rounds.

Johnson, the 32nd overall selection, batted .453 with nine doubles, two triples and six home runs at Newport High in Bellevue, Wash.

Among the other players signed were Sacramento City Junior College first baseman Doug Gredvig, taken in the fifth round, Lamar University outfielder Brandon Littleton (seventh), Rice University pitcher Jayme Sperring (eighth) and Bothell (Wash.) High catcher Michael Russell (ninth).

Lower choices who signed included pitchers Richard Bartless, Ryan Keefer, Brian Forystek, Joel Crump, Aaron Bouie and Dan Marchetti, catchers Thomas Arko and Kristopher Wilken, outfielder Thomas Joyce and shortstops Jose Rodriguez and Shayne Ridley.

Around the horn

Red Sox DH Morgan Burkhart made an immediate impact in his first game. He singled off Mussina in his first at-bat, lined a shot in his second that Anderson made a diving catch on in right-center field, then earned an intentional/ unintentional four-pitch walk from the Orioles' ace in his third at-bat. The rookie, who had 17 homers and 54 RBIs at Triple-A Pawtucket, got the ball and a standing ovation after his first hit. ... B. J. Surhoff's 20-game hitting streak is one short of his career high. ... Rain delayed the start 43 minutes. ... Pete Schourek, who threw seven shutout innings, hadn't lasted more than four in his last three appearances.

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