Lopez likely to pitch opener


VERO BEACH, Fla. - Last spring, Orioles pitcher Rodrigo Lopez was just trying to make the big-league club as a minor-league free agent. This year, he's probably going to be their Opening Day starter.

Manager Mike Hargrove hasn't made it official, but Lopez pitched three scoreless innings yesterday and is scheduled to pitch every fifth day until March 31, when the Orioles open their season against the Cleveland Indians at Camden Yards.

"I hate not telling you [the Opening Day starter], I really do," Hargrove said. "If I have one tradition, it's not saying anything to anybody, until it's crystal clear. But it's clearing up, and you're on the right track [with Lopez]."

Hargrove's other possibility is Sidney Ponson, who is on track to pitch every fifth day until March 25. With no game scheduled for March 30, Ponson will likely be pushed back to the season's second game, making room for Lopez, who is coming off the better season.

After pitching for the Culiacan Tomato Growers of the Mexican Winter League, Lopez made the Orioles' roster out of spring training last year as a reliever. By the end of April, Lopez was in the starting rotation, and he went 15-9 with a 3.57 ERA for the season, finishing second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting.

This winter, Lopez gave his arm a break, and so far he is showing no signs of rust. In his first start, Sunday against the New York Mets, he gave up just one hit - a two-run homer to Cliff Floyd.

Yesterday, he retired nine of the 11 batters he faced. The Los Angeles Dodgers had back-to-back singles to start the second inning, but Lopez pitched out of the jam.

Asked about the Opening Day start, Lopez said, "For now, I don't think too much about it. I want to focus on my job. I've been hearing rumors that I'm probably going to start that game, and I want to respond to the expectations all the people have for me."

Rogers likes Baltimore

Free-agent pitcher Kenny Rogers would like to sign with the Orioles, but he's not going to take a big pay cut to do it, according to his agent, Scott Boras.

Rogers, 38, who went 13-8 with a 3.84 ERA last season for the Texas Rangers, remains unsigned. Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Jim Beattie spoke with Boras earlier this week but moved no closer to signing the left-hander.

Rogers turned down a two-year, $11 million offer from the Rangers, and the Orioles had hoped his price was coming down. Boras said that isn't the case.

"He has interest in coming to Baltimore, and I expressed that to Jim," Boras said. "But there are a number of teams that are trying to put together packages for him."

With Scott Erickson out for the season with a shoulder injury, the Orioles still have six established starters vying for five spots.

"We can spend our money someplace else," Beattie said.

Around the horn

Former Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift was at their game yesterday, scouting for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who hired Thrift as a major-league consultant last month. ... Orioles third baseman Tony Batista, who was scratched from Wednesday's game with a sore knee, didn't make yesterday's trip, but Hargrove expects him back in the lineup soon.

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