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McElroy's start would bring relief


BOSTON - Until further notice, Chuck McElroy's middle name will remain "Undecided."

While the Orioles have yet to name their starting pitcher for Friday's game against the New York Yankees, manager Mike Hargrove is leaning toward giving the career reliever his second start in as many weeks. The move does not suggest a permanent role change for McElroy, but it does offer protection for several young arms taxed by innings or injury.

McElroy's run of 603 major-league appearances without a start ended in the first game of last Wednesday's doubleheader against the Oakland A's when he delivered five shutout innings in the Orioles' 2-0 win. Hargrove then quipped it would be another 600 appearances before McElroy's next start. Circumstances dictate that McElroy won't have to wait 10 days.

"I don't mind at all," McElroy said. "It's the same philosophy. You just have to throw strikes and pitch ahead. That's always important, but especially so when you're out there for more than one or two innings."

Hargrove cited the left-hander's natural advantage against a Yankees lineup loaded with left-handed hitting, though such matchups will likely be of minimal significance on the season's final weekend unless the defending world champions are pressed by the Toronto Blue Jays.

"The only difference is you're preparing to pitch every fifth day instead of every day," said McElroy said. "You need to find a way to stay strong."

The Orioles have taken a protective stance toward their three rookie pitchers - Luis Rivera, who has made only a single appearance since being promoted from Rochester on Sept. 5; Jay Spurgeon, who has four major-league starts; and John Parrish, who has struggled recently because of faltering mechanics.

Rivera, 22, likely will appear again in relief before heading to the instructional league and Mexican Winter League before auditioning next spring for the Orioles' rotation.

"You look at his delivery, his build and everything about him yells starting pitcher," Hargrove said. "Much like [Red Sox pitcher] Ramon Martinez, he's tall and lanky. I remember in Cleveland there was a huge debate over a couple years whether Bartolo Colon would be more effective as a starting pitcher or a reliever. There's no big debate here, but it's the same question."

Parrish, 22, had never pitched more than 102 1/3 innings in four pro seasons before amassing 149 2/3 innings this summer between Bowie, Rochester and Baltimore. The club became alarmed over the decline of his mechanics and has apparently decided to shut him down for the season. In his previous appearance, Parrish lasted 1 2/3 innings in a Sept. 12 start in Texas. Parrish is one of six organizational players headed for the Arizona Fall League after the season.

Hargrove on Ripken

Cal Ripken again started at third base while batting cleanup in his seventh consecutive game yesterday. Ripken is still waiting for his first home run since returning from more than two months on the disabled list, and Hargrove believes the wait can be attributed more to a search for timing than a search for health.

"I don't think that has anything to do with his back," Hargrove said. "I think that has everything to do with the fact that he's been off for two months. It takes time to get that back."

Ripken went 2-for-5 yesterday with two singles and three strikeouts, leaving him 13-for-54 (.241) since coming off the disabled list Sept. 1. On Friday night, Ripken laid out to his left to make a diving catch of Mike Lansing's line drive. Yesterday, he refrained from a dive after Nomar Garciaparra's leadoff single in the second. He then robbed Dante Bichette on a nearly identical ball in the seventh.

"I think he's fine. He's moving as well as he moved all year," Hargrove said.

Myers' salvage operation

Catcher Greg Myers has endured a season to forget. After starting the year on the disabled list because of a hamstring pull suffered in the final spring training exhibition, Myers has played sporadically while dealing with numerous nagging injuries.

However, the absence of Albert Belle (hip) and Jeff Conine (ankle) has allowed Myers time as designated hitter. Yesterday marked his sixth start in seven games. He has started only once as catcher since Aug. 26 and even that appearance typified his season. Myers caught the entire game last Tuesday when the Orioles and A's slogged through two rain delays totaling more than five hours, plus a 3:54 game that featured a team-record 15 walks by Orioles pitchers.

On Friday night, he homered for the second time in the past week to account for the Orioles' 3-1 win over the Red Sox but couldn't escape the disappointing big picture.

"This has been the toughest year I can remember," said the 12-year veteran of six major-league teams.

Around the horn

The Orioles announced that their Sept. 30 home game against the New York Yankees will start at 7:05 p.m. ... Utility infielder Mark Lewis has quietly assumed the league lead in double frequency. Lewis has 17 doubles in 158 at-bats.

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