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Hentgen throws; OK to return on Sunday


Orioles pitcher Pat Hentgen threw in the bullpen yesterday before rain drove the team indoors, and said he expects to make Sunday's start against the Texas Rangers at Camden Yards.

Eleven days will have passed between appearances for Hentgen, who's bothered by some tightness in his right shoulder. His scheduled turn fell last night after pitching on Wednesday, when he went seven innings to defeat the Detroit Tigers, 3-2.

Willis Roberts and Jason Johnson will pitch the two games against Anaheim in a series that's been pushed back because of last night's rainout. Jose Mercedes and Sidney Ponson will start the first two games against Texas before Hentgen takes the mound, and Roberts is expected to conclude the series on Monday.

Hentgen said his session went by without any setbacks, but he wanted to speak with pitching coach Mark Wiley and continue receiving treatment before evaluating his condition. He's resigned to waiting until Sunday to pitch again, though he wanted to get the opportunity Friday.

"I think I'll be fine," he said. "They figured with all the off days that we've had, it makes more sense to disrupt one guy in the rotation vs. pitching somebody and then disrupting three or four of us. I think from a team standpoint it's a great move.

"I don't see any problem at all [with making Sunday's start]. I was hoping it would be Friday, but it's probably a good decision."

Hentgen again described the stiffness as "your normal aches and pains you get as a pitcher."

"I think it's something I probably could have thrown though," he said, "but I understand given the off days and the early part of the season, it's probably a wise move."

Manager Mike Hargrove downplayed the importance of Hentgen missing a full turn, saying it rated a "three" on a scale of one to 10.

"It's mainly a general maintenance thing," he said.

Rain on Conine's parade

Last night's postponement came at a bad time for Jeff Conine, whose chance to extend his seven-game hitting streak again was put on hold. He already had waited through Monday's day off, leaving his average at .414 during the hot stretch.

Conine has been thriving in the cleanup spot, where he's totaled 19 RBIs in 19 games. Three of his five home runs this season have come while hitting fourth, including two of his five career grand slams.

"I hit cleanup for two years in Florida," he said. "It was a role I was comfortable with then, and I look at it now that it doesn't really matter where you are in the lineup. Obviously a cleanup guy's going to get more opportunities to drive in runs. As a hitter, you've got to relish that."

Conine was written into the lineup at first base last night before the rainout, with David Segui serving as the designated hitter. It would have been his 13th start there. Conine's also made six starts at third base and one in right, and has been the DH three times.

"It was difficult when I first came here," he said. " ... But now that I'm used to it, I kind of enjoy coming in and seeing what number's next to my name. I go out to batting practice and work on that position and get comfortable there and take it into the game."

Still sore, Bale sits

Left-hander John Bale, acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays during the winter meetings for minor-league catcher Jayson Werth, still hasn't pitched for Triple-A Rochester since being sent down by the Orioles on April 24. He has been restricted to throwing a light batting practice Saturday because of tendinitis in his left elbow.

Bale indicated that the discomfort surfaced during his last appearance with the Orioles on April 21 when he gave up a run and walked three in two innings against Tampa Bay.

Don Buford, the club's director of minor-league operations, said Bale has been bothered by a sore arm. "We didn't want to take a chance, so we kind of held him back," Buford said.

The Orioles decided against putting Bale on the disabled list because they didn't expect the injury to sideline him this long.

"It was a day-to-day thing," Buford said, "and it ended up being longer than we thought."

Bale joins four other pitchers who have missed significant time with injuries since being acquired in trades last season: Luis Rivera, Alan Mills, Mark Nussbeck and Pat Gorman.

Around the horn

Mike Kinkade left the club yesterday to be with his wife, who was delivering the couple's second child in Baltimore. ... Fans holding tickets for last night's postponed game are urged to use them for tomorrow night's makeup date. But they can exchange the tickets for any remaining games scheduled for Monday through Thursday during the 2001 season, subject to availability. Fans residing outside a 75-mile radius of Camden Yards may request a refund.

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