For its new TV analyst, club may tune in to B. Martinez


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - When the Orioles hired Mike Flanagan as their vice president of baseball operations, they created a hole in their television booth that a former ESPN analyst apparently is close to filling.

The team has prepared an offer to Buck Martinez, and a formal announcement of his hiring should come once the two sides reach agreement on salary and work schedule. Martinez would replace Flanagan as an analyst on Comcast SportsNet and for Orioles Television Network games.

Martinez left ESPN in 2001 to become the Toronto Blue Jays' manager, but he was fired last season.

Former Orioles second baseman Bill Ripken also has been given consideration for the analyst job, and former pitcher Dave Johnson expressed interest, but Martinez has emerged as the favorite.

Michael Reghi returns for his seventh season as the play-by-play announcer, and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer returns for his 11th season as an analyst. Palmer also will do some play-by-play when Reghi is off.

Matthews on a roll

Did any Oriole have a more productive winter than Gary Matthews?

Matthews emerged as the favorite to start in center field on Opening Day, signed a one-year deal to avoid arbitration, shed a few pounds and gained strength with the assistance of a personal trainer, and became more ingrained in the local community in his first offseason here.

A regular at Ravens and University of Maryland basketball games, Matthews popped up at a variety of functions in the Baltimore area - once receiving a "good guy" award from WNST Radio. The only thing he skipped was the winter league season, but that was to focus more on conditioning and take a mental break from baseball.

"I stayed away from it a little bit, which is good," said Matthews, who crushed a two-run homer yesterday in the Orioles' 9-4 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. "You don't want to make this 100 percent of your life. If baseball starts going bad, it seems like it's 100 percent of your life that's going bad. I try to balance it out a little bit."

Not much has gone wrong for him, besides an injury in August, since coming to the Orioles in an April 3 trade with the New York Mets. And that includes the financial side.

Eligible for arbitration this winter, Matthews avoided the process by signing for $900,000. It was a significant reward for batting a career-high .276 with 25 doubles and a .427 slugging percentage. He didn't have a plate appearance over the last 36 games because of a wrist injury.

"I felt like [his salary] was going to get taken care of one way or the other," he said. "They say arbitration's a nasty process, but for a guy like me who hasn't been on an easy path, how much worse could it get? For a guy who's been in five organizations now, I guarantee I'm not going to hear anything I haven't already heard."

Determined to prepare his body for a 162-game schedule, Matthews hired Kurtis Schultz, the former strength and conditioning coach for the Maryland basketball team who recently accepted a job with the Cincinnati Bengals.

"We've actually become pretty tight," Matthews said. "This is the first year that I've had to just dedicate to physical training in preparation for the season. I've never really had the time to do it because of winter ball. I figured since I would have a whole offseason to myself, I wanted to do something that was structured."

Matthews said he's "a little lighter but definitely stronger" than last year. "You can always get stronger and add more weight," he said, "but you're getting it done if you're a little bit lighter but still stronger."

Second time around

When Baseball America ran its list of top college prospects eligible for this year's draft, two of the names within the first four were especially familiar to the Orioles.

Junior pitchers Kyle Sleeth and Tim Stauffer were selected by the Orioles in 2000, but registered at four-year schools and are re-entering the draft in June. Sleeth, picked by the Orioles in the 18th round, attends Wake Forest. Stauffer, taken in the 36th round, attends Richmond.

Baseball America ranked Sleeth second and Stauffer fourth. The list didn't include junior college players who became draft-and-follow picks, such as pitcher Adam Loewen, chosen fourth overall by the Orioles in 2002. The Orioles can resume negotiations with Loewen for a brief period before the draft, but will lose his rights if unable to sign him by midnight on May 27.

"He's a talented player, a very special player," said Phillip Sledge, pitching coach at Chipola Junior College, where Loewen is playing.

Two other Orioles draftees made the list: Florida International pitcher Josh Banks at No. 41 and Southern California left-hander Frazer Dizard at No. 59. The Orioles chose Banks, from Arnold, in the 34th round. Dizard was taken in the 21st round.

"We're proud of the fact we're getting those kinds of guys," said scouting director Tony DeMacio. "It's a credit to our area scouts, who never get any credit. They lead me to where I've got to go."

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