Lopez still in picture as starter

The Baltimore Sun

Late game: Last night's game between the Orioles and Angels in Anaheim, Calif., ended too late to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions or on the Internet at www.baltimoresun.com.

Anaheim, Calif. --Before Monday's series opener at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo acknowledged that he and pitching coach Leo Mazzone have some decisions to make on their starting rotation.

He expected the next couple of games before tomorrow's day off to add some clarity, not to make their decision even more difficult. But that's exactly what happened in a 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Monday.

Rodrigo Lopez, the front-runner to be demoted to the bullpen if the Orioles decide to cut their rotation back down to five, pitched one of his finest outings of the year in a losing effort. He allowed just five hits over seven innings, allowing his only run on second baseman Adam Kennedy's two-out single up the middle in the fourth inning.

But was it enough for Lopez to stay in the rotation? That likely won't be decided until Friday. Erik Bedard, Adam Loewen and Hayden Penn are expected to start the first three games in the four-game set with the first-place New York Yankees that starts Friday. But Perlozzo hasn't decided who will start the series finale Monday and he has no shortage of options.

"Lopez, [Kris] Benson and [Daniel] Cabrera all could pitch that day," he said. "It's a good thing and bad thing. You feel like you have six guys that need to pitch, but when everybody gets [too many] days off, you know you have a problem. That's why you kind of sit back and just try to give it a little time."

Tomorrow will mark the Orioles' third day off in an 18-day span. The rest has been welcomed by a team headed for a ninth straight losing season, but it has affected the continuity of the pitching staff, Perlozzo said.

The manager believes that too many days off between starts fuels command problems. He pointed to Penn's seven-day layoff between starts as a possible reason the prized prospect struggled so mightily in his season debut Sunday in Oakland. But the only way to avoid extended rest for his pitchers would be to drop a current member of the rotation.

If Lopez had struggled Monday night, it would be hard to imagine the Orioles not sending him to the bullpen for the rest of the season. But he didn't. Only the Orioles' offensive futility - rookie phenom Jered Weaver held them to six hits over seven shutout innings - kept Lopez from getting a win.

"Trying to win every game when you pitch good, that's impossible," said Lopez, who was trying to pitch around Kennedy when he laced his RBI single to center that was the lone blemish on the pitcher's evening. "But it's hard to take that loss because it could be my double-digit win and it could make me feel much better. But I pitch real good and I know this [will] happen sooner or later."

Lopez leads the major leagues with 15 losses and has also given up more hits and earned runs than any other American League pitcher. His ugly numbers certainly give credence to the argument that he should be demoted to the bullpen, especially since he does not appear to be in the Orioles' long-term plans.

But Lopez, as Perlozzo has pointed out on several occasions, has also pitched much better lately and taken some pressure off the Orioles' beleaguered bullpen.

Lopez has gone seven or more innings in four of his past six starts. In that stretch, he only has two wins. He certainly deserved better Monday.

It is still possible that Lopez could keep his spot in the rotation even if Perlozzo decides that he's only going to go with five starters. Kris Benson, who started last night, has had some elbow discomfort in the second half, and it's not out of the question that the Orioles could shut him down early.

"We haven't come to a set conclusion about what we want to do," Perlozzo said. "We're still concerned about Kris Benson's arm. It just comes down to some numbers. ... If we don't want to stretch it out to six or seven days' [rest], then somebody has to go to the 'pen.

"I don't know who that is going to be if we choose to do that. It could be we could go back and stay the way we are and let them pitch it out."

If Perlozzo chooses to stick with a six-man rotation, it will most likely be done as a cautionary move to protect the Orioles' young arms. Bedard, the Orioles' best pitcher all season, has already thrown 166 2/3 innings. His previous career high was 141 2/3 last season.

"I can tell you that the pitching coach believes that you pitch," Perlozzo said. "The more innings, the better. But if one of those guys felt like he was getting tired or felt like he was pitching too many innings, we can always adjust. We have enough people to do that."


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