Castro elevates bunting to an art

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Bunting has become somewhat of a lost art, something fans rarely see unless they follow the Ottawa Lynx and switch-hitting second baseman Bernie Castro.

The bunt hit is an important part of Castro's fundamentally sound game, and it has helped him hit .327 (86-for-263), tied for sixth in the Triple-A International League, and earned him a spot on the IL All-Star team.

Castro will be joined by Tim Byrdak, the Lynx's left-handed closer, on the IL All-Star team that will play the Pacific Coast League stars July 13 in Sacramento, Calif.

It's the first time since 1996 that the Lynx have put two on the All-Star team.

"Bernie is as good a bunter as I've ever seen," said David Stockstill, the Orioles' director of minor league operations. "And Bernie bunts exceptionally well from both sides of the plate and runs extremely well."

Stockstill saw a game this season in which Castro, 25, a one-time New York Yankees and San Diego Padres minor leaguer who signed a minor league contract with the Orioles this season, laid down three bunt hits to three different areas.

"He got a bunt hit down the first base line, then one down third and the next time up he pushed one to shortstop for a hit," Stockstill said.

"I've never seen anything like it. If the Orioles need somebody to get on, steal bases, score runs and create excitement, then Bernie can help up there."

Castro is tied for fourth in hits (86) in the IL and for 10th in runs (46) and has stolen 17 bases.

Byrdak, 31, a 12-year pro with Kansas City, Cleveland and the Padres before being signed by the Orioles in 2004, has a 3-2 record and 2.31 ERA with 11 saves in 34 appearances. Byrdak has struck out 40 and walked 14 and given up 23 hits in 35 innings.

Triple-A Ottawa

Walter Young has been hot in June for the 37-37 Lynx. Young, who hit .205 with only one homer in May, has hit six homers and driven in 19 runs this month.

A 6-foot-5, 300-pound, left-handed slugger, Young has lifted his batting average to .294 (72-for-245). He is second on the Lynx in homers with nine and leads in RBIs (46).

"For a while there, Walter was hitting rockets that were just not high enough to get out of the ballpark," Stockstill said.

"He made a little adjustment and has been lifting the ball for home runs."

Saturday night Rick Bauer (2-6, 4.53 ERA) had his worst start of the season, giving up nine hits, three of them homers, and six runs, all earned, in four innings of a 10-0 loss.

Double-A Bowie

Sendy Rleal has taken advantage of the promotion of closer Chris Ray to the Orioles.

Rleal, a 25-year-old right-hander, throws a 94-mph fastball that occasionally touches 96, despite being 6-1 and 165 pounds. It's all in his release and arm action.

In 41 innings, Rleal is 2-2 with six saves and a 1.76 ERA. Rleal, who also throws a slider and change, has surrendered 24 hits and 11 walks while striking out 47.

The Baysox won a 1-0 thriller from the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in 12 innings on Saturday night in front of 8,611 in Bowie. After tagging out a pair of runners at the plate in the top of the 12th, Bowie catcher Brandon Marsters hit a game-winning sacrifice fly to score Mike Huggins in the bottom half.

Single-A Frederick

The Keys have two closers - Marino Salas (0-1, 4.12 ERA, seven saves) and left-hander David Haehnel, who had 16 saves at Delmarva before being promoted last week. Haehnel has given up one run in two innings.

Adam Loewen, a left-handed starter who is 2-5 with a 4.30 ERA in 75 1/3 innings, was named to the All-Star Futures Game and will pitch for the World Team on July 10 in Detroit.

Mario Delgado was 0-for-2 on Friday, his first game back after a 15-game suspension for violating the performance-enhancing drug policy. Delgado then hit his team-leading 11th home run and drove in three runs (giving him 35 RBIs) Saturday night in a 6-3 win over Potomac.

Delgado leads the Keys in batting at .335. Nick Markakis is the RBI leader with 48. Jeff Fiorentino has slipped to .262.

Single-A Delmarva

After going 32-42 in the first half of the South Atlantic League season, the Shorebirds are 2-3 in the second half and will have three players in the league's 46th All-Star Game tomorrow in Augusta, Ga.

The Shorebirds All-Stars are catcher Matt Houston (.276), pitcher Carlos Perez (5-5, 3.64) and outfielder Arturo Rivas (.265, 16 doubles, 25 RBIs). Haehnel, who was promoted to Frederick, and infielder Peter Maestrales, who was traded, have been replaced on the All-Star roster.

Justin Henington has replaced Haehnel as the Shorebirds closer, and the 6-3, 210-pound right-hander earned his first save in an 8-5 win over the Lake County Captains.

Single-A Aberdeen

The IronBirds are looking for some offensive punch and it could eventually come from one of their four catchers, three of whom are from area schools.

Among them is Hammond's record-setting All-Metro catcher (2000-2001) Jason Maxey, who had big numbers at Maryland and Towson this spring before signing as an undrafted free agent last week.

Maxey, who is a 5-11, 215- pound 22-year-old, might be the best hitter in the group that includes Cody Wargo (Mount St. Joseph, Indiana), Joe Michalski (Mount Hebron, George Washington) and Kyle Dahlberg (Texas Christian).

Stockstill said Michalski and Dahlberg are very good defensively but need to work on their hitting, as does Wargo, who is the oldest at 23.

Rookie-level Bluefield

The Bluefield Orioles are 2-3 in the Appalachian League with a .249 team batting average and a 4.81 ERA.

Rene Aqueron has five hits in his first eight at-bats to lead Bluefield.

Orioles farm report

Three up

Simon Pond of the Baysox extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a single in the 11th of Saturday night's 1-0 win over New Hampshire in 12 innings. Pond is batting .392 (29-for-74) in his past 15 games.

Ottawa right-hander John Maine was named the International League Player of the Week last week after a four-hit shutout with six strikeouts and no walks over the Richmond Braves on June 16.

Since being demoted from Bowie to Delmarva, shortstop Gary Cates is 8-for-20 (.400) in his past four games and is batting .345 (20-for-58) overall for the Shorebirds.

Three down

Baysox left-hander Eric DuBose (5-8) lost his fourth straight, giving up six runs on three homers in an 8-4 loss to the Altoona Curve on Wednesday.

The 0-5 IronBirds are batting .212 as a team with only one homer, 13th in the 14-team New York-Penn League and tied for 11th in team ERA (4.60).

Since batting .348 in mid-May, the Lynx's Alejandro Freire has dropped to .287 (71-for-247), going 4-for-21 in his past six games with no homers and two RBIs.

On deck

All-Star Game, 6:35 p.m. tomorrow in Frederick, the Carolina League vs. the California League.

Maryland spotlight

Ryan Childs

Position: Right-handed pitcher

Size: 6 feet 3, 230 pounds

Age: 23

Hometown: Gaithersburg

High school: Damascus

College: Clemson

Pro team: Independent Ohio Valley Redcoats of the Frontier League

Drafted: 2002 33rd round by the Orioles

Statistics: 3-1, 5.87 ERA, 38 1/3 innings, 48 hits, 11 walks, 14 strikeouts

Skinny: He was 3-5 last year in the Orioles' chain at Triple-A Ottawa, Single-A Delmarva and short-season Single-A Aberdeen.

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