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Ex-teammate Ponson isn't backing down from Bonds

Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson had a brief chat yesterday with San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds in the visitors' weight room at Camden Yards. Because they were teammates for two months last season, it seemed like an appropriate time to get caught up.

The conversation lasted about five minutes, just long enough for the Aruban to issue a little warning.

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"I told him I'm not afraid of him," said Ponson, who will start tomorrow's game while attempting to win for the first time since May 16.

"I can throw the ball down the middle and he can pop it up or he can hit it 600 feet. Both things can happen."

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Apparently, giving Bonds first base isn't an option unless he's told to do it.

"My mental preparation is to pitch to him all the time unless the manager tells me to walk him," Ponson said. "I'm not going to walk him just to walk him. I'll play the game. If he hits one, I'm going in his book."

Manager Lee Mazzilli said he'll let the game mostly dictate how he handles Bonds.

"You've got to go with your gut at times, too," he said. "The first inning, you get two quick outs, you're going to pitch to him. I understand both sides, from the baseball side and fans side, what has taken place already. But from a manager's standpoint, I can't lose a game because people want to see you pitch to him. That's not going to happen. But when there's a battle out there, you go after him."

Catcher Javy Lopez, a veteran of 10 National League seasons, implores his pitchers to "be smart" and to analyze the game situation.

"You can challenge him," Lopez said, "but chances are if you challenge him, he's going to hit it out."

Ponson never has faced Bonds, whose 82 walks include 43 issued intentionally.

"I know how to pitch him. Don't throw anything down the middle," Ponson said, grinning. "I saw what he can do firsthand sitting in the dugout last year. That guy can walk the whole week, get one pitch to hit and hit it out. That's special."

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So what about Ponson's vow to go after Bonds? "I can't wait," Bonds said, his grin exceeding Ponson's. "Bring it on, baby."

Rain, rain, go away

Last night's rainout raised the Orioles' total to seven and left Mazzilli muttering to himself.

"It's mind-boggling," he said.

The Orioles are forced to play a doubleheader today, with the first game scheduled for 3:15 p.m. because Fox is broadcasting it. That means the nightcap doesn't begin until 8:30 p.m.

"Get your rest, guys," Mazzilli said. "It's going to be a long day tomorrow."

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Last night's scheduled starter, left-hander Erik Bedard, is being held back until the second game. Rodrigo Lopez will start the first game.

"Just going with the experienced guy first," Mazzilli said.

Next stop: Aberdeen

The Orioles are close to assigning pitcher Chris Smith to short-season Single-A Aberdeen, which opens its season on Friday at Ripken Stadium.

Doc Rodgers, the Orioles' director of minor league operations, said it's 95 percent certain Smith, the team's first-round draft pick in 2001, will report to Aberdeen rather than Single-A Delmarva. It's undetermined whether he'll be a starter or reliever.

"It's going to depend on what other arms are available," he said. "We have some guys who will come down from Delmarva to pitch there, too. But we know he won't be a one-inning closer. He'll pitch as a starter or in middle relief and get plenty of work."

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That would be a nice change for Smith, who hasn't pitched since July 16, 2002, because of a shoulder injury that later required surgery. He's made only seven appearances covering 13 innings since the Orioles drafted him.

Another former No. 1 pick, Adam Loewen, threw two-thirds of an inning in relief Thursday after coming off the disabled list. Loewen, who was bothered by a strained rib-cage muscle, allowed one run and two hits in Delmarva's 7-3 loss to Lake County. He walked one and struck out two.

"He had good velocity on his fastball, and he had better command of his off-speed stuff than his fastball, which is understandable after missing that much time facing hitters," Rodgers said.

"There were no issues with the muscle pull on his side. He was 100 percent."

Loewen was supposed to go one inning but reached his pitch count. He'll rest for two or three days before pitching in relief again, this time for a maximum of three innings. The Orioles will put him back in the Shorebirds' rotation if he remains healthy.

The fourth overall selection in 2002, Loewen is 2-2 with a 3.67 ERA, 25 walks and 33 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings.

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Around the horn

Jay Gibbons will report to Bowie today and play two games before joining the Orioles in Cleveland for Monday's makeup. ... Delmarva pitcher Zach Dixon, catcher Juan Gutierrez and infielder Nate Spears were chosen for the South Atlantic League All-Star Game.


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