Top pick Rowell agrees to terms


ATLANTA -- After about three weeks of negotiations, the Orioles came to terms yesterday with Bill Rowell, their first-round pick and the No. 9 selection overall in the 2006 baseball amateur draft.

Rowell, a power-hitting infielder from Bishop Eustace Prep in New Jersey, turned down a scholarship offer from Alabama and agreed to a $2.1 million signing bonus with the Orioles. It is $100,000 more than the deal the No. 8 pick, University of Texas outfielder Drew Stubbs, signed with the Cincinnati Reds.

"We're excited," said Orioles director of scouting Joe Jordan. "This is a good day. We're excited to get him down here."

Rowell will be in Baltimore to take a physical Wednesday. The Orioles are expected to have a news conference introducing their No. 1 pick Thursday at Camden Yards, before the 17-year-old reports to short-season Single-A Bluefield. Rowell, who played shortstop in high school but projects as either a third baseman or corner outfielder, is the first high school infielder the Orioles have taken with their first-round pick since third baseman Robert Bruce in 1978.

"We're pleased that we agreed with the Orioles on the financial terms," said Gregg Clifton, Rowell's agent. "Billy and his family are thrilled that the Orioles realized his unique talent and rewarded him with such a wonderful contract."

As a high school senior, Rowell hit .561 with seven home runs, 37 RBIs and 22 stolen bases. The Orioles have also agreed to terms with their sixth-round pick, Jason Berken, a right-handed pitcher from Clemson; and 14th-round pick, Brent Allar, a right-handed pitcher from Texas Christian.

Benson to start finale

Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said that Kris Benson will start tomorrow's series finale on three days' rest, not Erik Bedard. Because both Benson and Bedard started in Wednesday's doubleheader, the Orioles had to chose one of them to come back a day earlier than normal and they chose Benson, who has already done it once before this season. Perlozzo said that Benson only going five innings on Wednesday - Bedard went seven - factored heavily in the decision.

"[Benson is] a veteran," Perlozzo said. "You'd think he could handle it a bit better. As long as his side session goes OK today, we're counting on him."

Ortiz gets his chance

Perlozzo said he is eager to see how Russ Ortiz, the former Arizona Diamondbacks starter who the club signed last week, performs in his Orioles' debut tonight. The Orioles manager said the right-hander's stint in the rotation is entirely dependent on how well he pitches.

"He's got to pitch good enough to hold his position," Perlozzo said. "I'm pretty sure he knows he has to pitch pretty good for a little while. But give him a chance. I'm not going to make a rash judgment after one start, but I'd certainly hope he shows us enough to give him three or four more starts."

Cox and Mazzone

Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone had nervously rocked by Atlanta manager Bobby Cox's side for 15 1/2 seasons. Cox said before last night's game that he had no intention of looking into the Orioles' dugout to see what Mazzone was up to during the game.

"I'm not going to look over there," Cox said. "I'll get dizzy watching him rock."

Pitcher John Smoltz, one of the Braves who Mazzone still pledges to follow closely, praised his former coach before the game.

"There is no denying, for me personally, how much he's helped my career," Smoltz said. "You can't help but spend that much time with someone."

Around the horn

Orioles rookie Nick Markakis, who went to high school about 25 miles outside Atlanta, said that he was expecting about 500 guests for last night's game. He went 3-for-3 to lift his average to .257. ... In his first start at Triple-A and in his first outing since being sent down to the minors, left-hander Adam Loewen allowed only two hits and two walks over seven shutout innings Wednesday night in Ottawa's 3-0 win over Pawtucket. "That shows progress to me," Perlozzo said. "Hopefully, he realizes [that] if he continues like that, he's going to pitch in the big leagues." ... Despite last night's win, the Braves finished with no more than six wins in a month for only the fifth time since moving to Atlanta in 1966 and the first time since a 4-13 record in April 1990.

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