Age aside, Brea deal won't be challenged

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Whether Leslie Brea is 21 or 26, he will remain an Oriole.

Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift said yesterday the club is through investigating the pivotal player in the July 28 trade that sent shortstop Mike Bordick to the New York Mets and now considers the right-handed pitcher theirs.

"It wouldn't do any good" to protest, Thrift said. "Everything we saw indicated he was 21. The Mets and Major League Baseball had the same information."

Thrift phoned Brea's agent yesterday to verify the date provided by the team and the commissioner's office.

Mets general manager Steve Phillips said yesterday Brea had told a secretary earlier this year that he was older than his listed birthdate but that the club believed the pitcher was no older than 23. Phillips said if there were industry-wide suspicions about Brea's age, it didn't prevent several clubs from introducing his name into trade discussions. The Cincinnati Reds and Tampa Bay Devil Rays are also believed to have shown interest.

"When we first learned he might be older, it was spring," Phillips said. "We assumed everything was in order when we got him from Seattle."

Phillips conceded that Brea's age has been something of a riddle. Brea attended a New Jersey high school but did not play baseball. Neither was he drafted. Not until he returned to the Dominican Republic did the Seattle Mariners sign him as a free agent. It is suspected Brea may have altered his birthdate to enhance his value. A name change would have helped stymie anyone attempting to investigate. The Mets traded for Brea in return for outfielder Butch Huskey and assumed his age legitimate.

"If they were duped, then so were we," Phillips said.

Thrift was surprised to learn about the discrepancy when he read accounts of Brea's major-league debut Sunday in Kansas City. Asked by reporters if he was actually 21, Brea answered he was 26.

A follow-up call to Major League Baseball's central office confirmed Brea's birthdate was listed as Oct. 12, 1978, the same as shown in the Mets media guide. After Sunday's start, Brea also corrected the spelling of his given name from "Lesli."

The Orioles optioned Brea to Triple-A Rochester on Monday to make room for reliever Jay Spurgeon. Thrift reiterated that Brea's promotion last weekend was intended only as a stopgap.

Thrift seemed to grudgingly acknowledge that Brea's birthdate is incorrectly listed in Major League Baseball's computer but that there was no desire to seek redress.

"Chronological age isn't everything," Thrift said. "Regardless of whether he's 21 or 26, he has to have the ability to pitch in the major leagues. And he does."

Brea would not be the first Latin American player to have questions raised about age. Atlanta Braves rookie shortstop Rafael Furcal was discovered to be 23 rather than 19 after a traffic mishap earlier this season. Thrift also recalled yesterday the Pittsburgh Pirates' signing a pair of free agents in their mid-20's, Woodie Fryman and Bruce Dal Canton, who enjoyed solid major-league careers. "[Brea] could still pitch 10 years in the major leagues," Thrift said.

Brea will remain in the Rochester rotation but will receive consideration for a September recall.

"I don't think any less of him than I did yesterday," Thrift said. "I saw a 60 [on a scale of 80] fastball and outstanding breaking stuff. That's what everybody else saw. And that's what I'm going to go on."

Ripken headed for rehab?

Manager Mike Hargrove said he intended to speak with Cal Ripken after last night's game concerning a possible rehab assignment.

Ripken hasn't played since searing pain in his lower back forced him from a June 27 game in Boston. He's increased the intensity of all his baseball-related activities, but most likely will need some at-bats in the minors before reclaiming his place in the Orioles' lineup.

Meanwhile, Brady Anderson apparently is getting closer to a return after spraining his right wrist during Thursday's game in Detroit. Anderson has hit off a tee the past two nights.

And reliever Alan Mills will have a cortisone injection today to relieve pain from a bone spur behind his right shoulder. Mills is eligible to come off the disabled list Sunday, but might need a few extra days before rejoining the bullpen.

"I think it would be within the next five or seven days. It depends how his shoulder reacts," Hargrove said.

Rapp's return uncertain

Pat Rapp's father had surgery yesterday in Louisiana, and the Orioles remain uncertain when the pitcher will return.

Details remain sketchy, but Rapp's father apparently contacted a severe infection in his leg while fishing. He still was in critical condition yesterday.

Lewis gets start at third

Hargrove originally had Ryan Minor penciled in the lineup as the third baseman last night, but decided to give Mark Lewis the start.

"I want to get Mark back in the scheme of things. I'll play Mark tonight and Ryan probably will be back in there tomorrow," Hargrove said.

"I'm not looking at platooning them. I'm just trying to get them both playing time right now."

Minor had started six of the past seven games before last night.

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