To Matos, healthy outlook is top priority


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Hitting .400 this spring would be nice. So would stealing a bunch of bases and running down every fly ball in his vicinity. But if Orioles outfielder Luis Matos drew up a list of his camp preferences, statistical accomplishments wouldn't be at the top.

"My first goal," he said, "is to stay healthy."

That would be a switch. Matos, 24, missed significant chunks of the past two seasons after dislocating his left shoulder and having surgery to tighten the capsule and breaking the hamate bone in his left hand. Both injuries occurred in spring training. Both of them stalled a promising career.

Matos could use a change of luck. His shoulder popped out as he slid into third base, and his hamate bone broke as he swung at a pitch in Port Charlotte, Fla.

"That was a time when, if I wasn't hurt and played out the season in Triple-A, I'd be in a little bit better shape [professionally] than I am right now. But things happen for a reason," said Matos, who batted .129 in 17 games with the Orioles last season and .245 with Caguas of the Puerto Rican Winter League.

Club officials project a Triple-A outfield of Larry Bigbie, Matos and Darnell McDonald, though they retain some flexibility. The major-league outfield is too crowded, and all three players would benefit from regular at-bats in Ottawa.

Strong outing by Riley

Yesterday's second intrasquad game included a dominant inning from Matt Riley, who retired Jay Gibbons and Tony Batista on pop-ups and induced a grounder from Jeff Conine.

Riley, who missed the 2001 season after having ligament-transplant surgery in his left elbow, continues to impress manager Mike Hargrove with his pitching and attitude. He won't make the major-league roster coming out of spring training because of the Orioles' wealth of starters, but he could move up to Triple-A after spending last summer at Double-A Bowie.

"If you had told me that he would be where he's at in 2003 as opposed to where he was when I saw him in 2000, I would have told you you were crazy," Hargrove said. "He really has done a good job in setting priorities and taking responsibility for his career."

Rizzo seeking spot

Left-hander Todd Rizzo's chances of making the club are pretty slim. This much he understands. A more attainable goal would be to avoid pitching again in an independent league.

Rizzo pitched in the Texas-Louisiana League in 1994, splitting the year between the Tyler WildCatters and San Antonio Tejanos. A combined 7.85 ERA didn't win him any bragging rights.

Eight years later, after brief appearances with the Chicago White Sox, he was pitching for the Camden Riversharks of the Atlantic League and wondering where it all went wrong.

At least he could brag about his Camden numbers. Rizzo, 31, was 4-3 with six saves and a 1.93 ERA. "My career's been a roller coaster," he said.

It moved upward when Syd Thrift, then the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations, included Rizzo on his list of spring training invitees. He received a tryout in October after pitching for Team USA in a qualifier for the Pan-Am Games.

"I'm as confident and strong as I've ever been," he said.

Rizzo was in his second year as a coach at Delaware County (Pa.) Community College when the Los Angeles Dodgers signed him in 1992. He appeared in nine games with the White Sox in 1998 and three more the next year.

Rizzo went to spring training with the Dodgers in 2001 but was released from their Triple-A roster in May. Pressing on, he signed with the San Francisco Giants and was 3-4 with a 4.50 ERA at Triple-A Fresno before the Riversharks beckoned.

While in the Dodgers' camp, Rizzo was introduced to Jim Morris, whose rise from obscurity to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays pitching staff inspired the Disney movie The Rookie. Watch the special features included on the DVD and you'll spot Rizzo in the background of one scene.

"I told my wife, 'There's my 15 minutes of fame,' " he said.

Bechler memorial

A memorial service for Steve Bechler will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. March 8 at the South Medford (Ore.) High auditorium. Bechler, who made his major-league debut with the Orioles five months ago, died Feb. 17 of complications related to heatstroke.

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