NEW YORK - With his options limited by a thin bench and the opponents' left-handed pitcher, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove gave rookie Luis Matos another start in right field and used Albert Belle as the designated hitter.
Hargrove made the same moves on Wednesday when the New York Yankees started left-hander Andy Pettitte. Matos responded with a double, triple and walk, and used his speed and instincts to make a few difficult plays in the field.
Matos, who was 0-for-2 with two walks yesterday, had played four games in center field before moving to right on Monday. Again batting ninth against a left-hander, Toronto's David Wells, he reached on an infield hit and doubled high off the Camden Yards scoreboard in right. He also threw out a runner at third.
Hargrove doesn't want any assumptions made based on these moves. Belle simply is the best option as DH, he said, rather than using Matos or the left-handed-hitting Harold Baines. Jeff Conine isn't available for the role because he's filling in for Ryan Minor at third. And Mark Lewis can't free up Conine because he's playing second for Delino DeShields.
Minor and DeShields are making gains in their recoveries from a pulled rib cage muscle and strained back muscle, respectively. DeShields has been available the past two games, but Hargrove doesn't want to rush him.
The solution: Belle is restricted to hitting unless a right-hander, like Philadelphia's Curt Schilling, who faces the Orioles tonight, is the starter. The arrangement also gives Hargrove the chance to rest Belle without removing him from the lineup, where he's been for all 83 games this season.
"Don't read anything into that," Hargrove said when asked about the arrangement. "I don't want to DH Matos and getting toward the break, I'm looking at ways to give a guy a day off without giving him a day off. But Albert's not the DH, if that's what you're wondering."
Belle has long chafed at the designated hitter role, and his late-inning removal as part of a double switch during a game in Florida last season led to a public dust-up with manager Ray Miller. While Hargrove insists there is little to be read into this week's move, many within the organization believe the club's best interests would be served by Belle's conversion to DH. Such a move, however, would require the blessing of majority owner Peter Angelos.
Belle entered yesterday batting .351 with no home runs and one RBI in 37 at-bats as designated hitter. Belle drove in the Orioles' second run during a two-run first inning yesterday.
Matos sticking around
It's no longer assumed that Matos, 21, will return to the minors this season. Plucked from Double-A Bowie when Rich Amaral went on the disabled list, he's pushing to become more than a short-term roster solution.
Hargrove continues to refer to Amaral, 38, as day-to-day with a strained left calf muscle, and conceded the veteran outfielder won't return before the break. There's obviously no rush to activate him.
"As long as I can get [Matos] at-bats, I can see ways for him to stay here," Hargrove said.
Still no word on whether Cal Ripken will start at third base in Tuesday's All-Star Game in Atlanta. AL manager Joe Torre said he intended to speak with Ripken, who's on the disabled list with inflammation in his lower back, by the end of the week because he'll need time to find a replacement if Ripken can't play.
"I anticipate I'll talk to him in the next couple days," Torre said.
Ripken's health apparently is the final hurdle. Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations, has eliminated one of them.
"It's really not my decision to make," Hargrove said. "Syd, from what I understand, gave permission for him to play. Now it's up to Cal."
Numbed by what he witnessed yesterday, Hargrove remains noncommittal about how he will align his starting rotation following the All-Star break, but it's possible Mike Mussina may pitch the second game of next week's three-game series against the Atlanta Braves rather than the first.
Depending on Hargrove's call, Mussina will face either the Braves, Florida Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays or the Braves, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in his first three starts after the break. Pitching Mussina against the Braves on Friday rather than Thursday also would guarantee him his first four starts at home, where he enjoys a 2.72 ERA compared with 5.33 on the road. Mussina's enjoys the league's fifth-best ERA at home.
Mussina makes his final start of the first half tonight against the Philadelphia Phillies, timing that allowed him to be considered for the American League All-Star team, though he was ultimately bypassed as Torre opted for a nine-man staff.
Around the horn
Brady Anderson's first-inning home run yesterday was his 40th to lead off a game, and his fourth this season. Rickey Henderson is baseball's all-time leader with 78. ... Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams extended his hitting streak to 16 games in the second inning when second baseman Mark Lewis had trouble getting the ball out of his glove after charging a slow bouncer. The play began an eight-run inning for New York. ... Dwight Gooden's start against the New York Mets tomorrow means the Yankees will skip the turn of David Cone (1-7, 6.40 ERA), with Pettitte going Sunday. ... The Yankees have produced 10 two-homer innings this season. They did it twice yesterday, in the second and fourth. Both were back-to-back.