Team likely will choose to limit candidates for September recall

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When the Orioles go through baseball's yearly ritual of expanding their roster next week, with temporary lockers shoved together in the middle of the clubhouse, they'll exert more energy by sifting through the disabled list than the available talent at their minor league affiliates.

Club officials met last week to discuss September call-ups, and though they didn't compose a final draft, they have a pretty good idea of which players will be coming to Baltimore.

It shouldn't get too crowded. No need to double the recipes for the post-game spreads.

"When you think about it," said Mike Flanagan, vice president of baseball operations, "most of the guys are here."

Designated hitter David Segui and outfielder Melvin Mora appear close to coming off the disabled list, one willing to play through the pain of a damaged tendon in his wrist, the other with a bruised hand too weak to hold his spot among the American League's leading hitters.

Second baseman Jerry Hairston is expected to begin an injury rehabilitation assignment in the minors later this week, and he could rejoin the Orioles' lineup for the first time since fracturing a bone in his right foot May 20 in Anaheim.

The Orioles won't empty their disabled list - Albert Belle and Scott Erickson are clinging to the bottom like algae - but they'll find plenty of useful parts.

"There aren't going to be a lot of call-ups for the simple reason that we have a lot of people on the DL who should be coming back in September," said manager Mike Hargrove. "I think there will be some, but not a great number."

Said Flanagan: "It's not going to be anything earth-shattering. There won't be any surprises."

The Orioles don't want players crammed into their clubhouse, waiting for an opportunity that won't come. If they're in a major league uniform, they're expected to play. And not just card games.

"We're not going to bring guys in here to sit," Flanagan said. "If we feel like we can use them and learn something, then we'll bring them up."

Some of them arrived early. Luis Matos is entrenched in center field, a healthy version of Gary Matthews in 2002. Larry Bigbie was holding down left field in Mora's absence until Tim Raines Jr. started there Friday night at Yankee Stadium after the Orioles purchased his contract from Triple-A Ottawa.

Brian Roberts became the leadoff hitter after Hairston's injury. Eric DuBose is in the rotation. Rick Bauer and John Parrish are in the bullpen.

And don't forget pitcher Kurt Ainsworth, acquired in the Sidney Ponson trade. He's on a throwing program, and the Orioles hope to activate him next month and use him in relief.

Last year's moves were mostly done out of necessity, with injuries crashing the team like a computer virus. Players arrived just in time to be rushed into the lineup because someone ahead of them went down. How else to explain Raul Casanova? "We were just looking for healthy people," Hargrove said.

Casanova is back in the organization with Ottawa. So is infielder Luis Lopez, part of a strange reunion that developed late in the summer but will be confined to the International League.

The Orioles don't need them. And they don't need shortstop Ed Rogers, who arrived from Double-A Bowie last September but came off the 40-man roster this year after clearing waivers.

Flanagan indicated that the call-ups will be players already on the 40-man roster, and they'll most likely come from Ottawa, with the possible exception of left-hander Erik Bedard. He's pitching at short-season Aberdeen after undergoing Tommy John elbow ligament-reconstruction surgery last year, and the Orioles are reconsidering plans to have him report to the fall instructional league after the minors are finished.

It makes more sense to extend him at the major league level, rather than shut him down for a month after the IronBirds are through, then start him up again in the fall.

"He's coming on so fast," said one club official, "he's a consideration."

The Orioles are expected to go with a six-man rotation in September. Unless they make a trade, the core of Rodrigo Lopez, Jason Johnson, Pat Hentgen, Damian Moss and DuBose will remain intact.

So who will join them? Three years removed from Tommy John surgery, Matt Riley has emerged as the leading candidate, according to sources in the organization.

He's 2-2 with a 3.81 ERA in 11 games at Ottawa after going 5-2 with a 3.11 ERA in 14 appearances at Bowie, and the Orioles still are enamored with his stuff. A scout from another organization raved about him earlier this month.

Rushed to the majors in 1999, with results that left scars on his elbow and reputation, Riley is re-establishing himself as an elite pitching prospect in the system.

It's possible Sean Douglass and John Stephens, who combined for 19 starts with the Orioles last season, won't be seen this year.

Beginning to show some consistency, Douglass is 9-8 with a 3.49 ERA in 25 games at Ottawa. Stephens, who began the season still rehabbing from foot surgery, is 6-6 with a 4.17 ERA in 25 games.

Of the two, Douglass stands the better chance of rejoining the Orioles, but no one in the organization is making a commitment.

As for position players, the Orioles are expected to summon catcher Geronimo Gil, the one-time starter who fell out of favor but is hitting .349 in 28 games at Ottawa, and infielder Carlos Mendez, who mostly sat after his contract was purchased this summer.

"We don't have specific needs," Hargrove said. "It's more about guys we want to look at."

The organization will do this while keeping an eye on the win column - always a tricky proposition.

Hargrove and his staff are in the final year of their contracts, and it figures that the same 4-24 record that tarnished last September will bring significant changes from the front office. Though he won't discuss it publicly, Hargrove understands the bind he's in, trying to win games while evaluating younger players and preparing them for 2004, when someone else might be managing the club.

Is a six-man rotation conducive to winning? Or having Ainsworth and Bedard continue their rehabs in the bullpen? Or maybe experimenting with Roberts at shortstop? Last year, the Orioles gave Hentgen four starts in September to gauge his recovery from Tommy John surgery and determine whether he should be re-signed. He lost all four decisions.

Without addressing Hargrove's situation, Flanagan said, "You always need to win. Winning is the goal. This isn't spring training.

"You want to put people in situations where they can win. We're not going to sacrifice winning to look at somebody. If we get a chance to put people in and the scenario's right, we'll do it."

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