Orioles notebook

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The field of contenders for a spot in the Orioles' rotation became considerably thinner yesterday when three potential starters were optioned to Triple-A Rochester, improving the chances that Willis Roberts will accompany the team north when spring training ends in two weeks.

Jay Spurgeon, Josh Towers and left-hander John Parrish were among the eight cuts made by the Orioles before their game against the Texas Rangers. They were optioned, along with reliever Leslie Brea and infielder Ivanon Coffie. Catcher Willie Morales and infielders Steve Sisco and Ed Rogers -- non-roster invitees -- were reassigned to the minor-league camp in Sarasota, Fla.


Spurgeon departs one day after his finest effort this spring, when he limited the New York Mets to one hit over four shutout innings. Parrish gave up a three-run homer to Robin Ventura in that same game, leaving his ERA at 9.95 in 6 1/3 innings.

"I heard he threw strikes, then got up in the strike zone and got hit," said manager Mike Hargrove. "That's been John's problem the whole time. He gets to rushing and in too big a hurry and tries to be too nasty and ends up getting under the ball and leaving it up in the strike zone. You can't stay up in the strike zone consistently and expect to have success."


Parrish showed promise after being called up last summer. He made eight starts, but he had more trouble throwing strikes as the season wound down. His mechanics improved in the fall league, which led to better control, and he hoped to make the club as a fourth or fifth starter.

"They said I'm not getting enough innings up here and this way I'll be ready for the season, whenever they need somebody up there," he said. "I'm just going to keep on working the same way I have been. It's been coming together lately. There are one or two pitches you make in a game that are decisive, and that's what happened the last game. I'm just going to go down there and fix up some minor things, and when I do, everything's going to come together. I'm not discouraged about going down. I'm way ahead of where I was last year."

Towers, a control specialist who once walked only nine in 145 1/3 minor-league innings, didn't have the same command this spring. He allowed seven runs and 17 hits in 11 1/3 innings, walking four and striking out five. Opponents were batting .362 against him.

"I toyed with giving Spurgeon and Towers one more start, but it wouldn't have been until March 24. That's not fair, and you'd have the same decision eight days later. You'd probably end up making the same decision anyway, to send them out and let them work," Hargrove said.

Brea, whose impressive fastball has been a hotter topic than his age, struck out eight in 4 1/3 innings and held opponents to a .125 batting average. He'll probably be used in late relief in Rochester, with a chance to rejoin the Orioles during the summer. With Alan Mills' status uncertain for Opening Day -- he has been slow to recover from September shoulder surgery -- Brea had been considered a possible replacement.

Sisco's chances of making the team as a backup middle infielder were reduced when he pulled an oblique muscle. Hargrove wanted to use him at shortstop but never had the chance. Rogers, perhaps the top position prospect in the organization, batted .148 and tied Jeff Conine for the club lead in errors with three.

With three shutout innings against the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, Roberts continues to be one of the camp's most intriguing stories. Signed as a six-year minor-league free agent, he's posted a 4.00 ERA while striking out 11 in nine innings. His stuff can be downright nasty, as evidenced by the .171 batting average against him.

"We've got to stretch him out and get him some innings," Hargrove said. "Nobody has to be Superman. They just have to get people out, throw strikes. He doesn't have to do anything extra. He just needs to go out and continue doing what he's been doing."


Roberts, Jason Johnson and left-hander Chuck McElroy are vying for two openings in the rotation.

Three relievers, two spots

With Mills likely to begin the season on the disabled list, it appears Calvin Maduro, Chad Paronto and 22-year-old Jorge Julio are competing for two right-handed relief spots.

Maduro helped his cause with two perfect innings yesterday in the Orioles' 1-0 victory over the Rangers. Paronto allowed two singles in the ninth but got the win.

Maduro, who had lost his visa spot and didn't re-sign with the Orioles until Feb. 16, hasn't given up a run in seven innings. He didn't pitch after June 22 because of an elbow injury that twice put him on the disabled list.

"I liked him last year in a relief role," Hargrove said. "He locates his fastball well and has a nice curveball and a good changeup. We're seeing the same thing, which is good. Sometimes a guy will come back from an injury and favor it a little bit, but he's stepped up."


Paronto has allowed one earned run in seven innings. Julio, whose fastball reaches 100 mph, has allowed two runs in seven innings.

Rough time for Gibbons

Count Jay Gibbons among the Orioles trying to play through discomfort.

Gibbons has been dealing with a mild strain of his right hamstring the past four days. He was held out of Friday's game against the Mets, but he accompanied a split squad to Port St. Lucie the next day. He didn't leave the bench yesterday.

"I tweaked it the other day in [batting practice]. It's just one of those things you do in spring training," he said. "I played [Saturday] with no problem. It's nothing to worry about. It just feels a little bit like something's there. I could go 100 percent right now, but in spring training I'm trying to be more careful."

Gibbons also is trying to shake the flu.


Around the horn

THE NUMBER: 14 -- Pitchers left in camp for 12 spots, not including Mills.

INJURY UPDATE: First baseman David Segui again received treatment for a strained right hamstring and remains at least a few days from playing. ... Cal Ripken hit in the outdoor cage and could take live batting practice for the first time tomorrow. "That is the major hurdle we have to get by," Hargrove said. "Once he does that and comes through that fine, we'll go from there. But as every day passes, we're getting closer to him playing in a game."