Rodriguez has unlikely supporter

The Baltimore Sun

Alex Rodriguez won't hit 113 homers this season, the pace he was on after his first 20 games. But even when the New York Yankees third baseman returns to mortal status, he's going to remain incredibly productive this year, according to someone who understands offense.

"When you can put it together like that in the first month of the season, that guarantees you a hell of a season. Guaranteed," said Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. "Doing that in April? Man, I'm telling you, his year is going to be phenomenal."

No player in baseball, including Rodriguez and St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, has had more home runs and RBIs in the past three seasons than Ortiz. He stopped short at predicting that Rodriguez would break Barry Bonds' single-season home run record of 73, but said, "he's got the ability to get it done."

As for the idea that Rodriguez will never truly be embraced in the Big Apple until he wins a World Series, Ortiz just shook his head.

"It's crazy how people look at him in New York," said Ortiz, who is a cult hero in Boston. "What is it they want from him? I'd take his numbers anytime."

Back home again

Oakland Athletics right-hander Jay Witasick was back at Camden Yards this week, a short drive from his offseason home in Bel Air. He'll return with the A's next month and then won't be back for an extended period until the offseason.

That's fine with him, because he's a member of one of baseball's most balanced bullpens on a team that is a perennial playoff contender. But the C. Milton Wright alumnus and product of UMBC can't say he'll never be an Oriole.

"I have not ruled out the fact that I won't try [to play here] again," he said. "But obviously when you are on a team like this, you don't think about things like that."

Witasick, 34, attempted it once before, signing a minor league deal with the Orioles in 2005. He was considered a decent bet to make the club, but Todd Williams, among others, outpitched him in the spring.

Witasick asked for his release instead of going to Triple-A Ottawa, and signed with the Colorado Rockies. He's been with the A's since 2005, and though his contract expires this winter, the club has a $2 million option for 2008.

He's struggled early this season (four earned runs in his first six outings), but here are two interesting stats: He has a 3.38 ERA at Camden Yards and a 2.49 ERA in 14 games all time against the Orioles - his best mark versus any American League team.

Managerial skills

To be a productive utility player and pinch hitter, the Orioles' Chris Gomez said one has to think like a manager. But Gomez has no interest in doing the job for real once he retires from baseball, even though he seems to have the right mix of passion, acumen, straightforwardness and temperament.

"Not in the big leagues. When I am done, I don't see myself traveling," said Gomez, 35, who is in his 15th major league season. "And I don't know if I'd ever want to be a manager because of all the stuff you'd have to put up with."

He said a coaching position someday is a possibility, but he sees himself working at a much lower level with his two boys. When asked which teammates come to mind as potential big league coaches, Gomez named Kevin Millar and former Oriole B.J. Surhoff.

No worries for Howard

Reigning National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Howard had just 14 hits and only three homers in his first 18 games this season. But one scout who saw him recently said Philadelphia Phillies fans shouldn't be concerned. The scout said Howard often has been a victim of the windy and rainy Aprils in the East. Once the weather heats up, so will Howard, the scout said.

"Howard's really pressing, but all bets are off because the weather has been so brutal," the scout said. "It's held some of his home runs back, but he'll start getting a few and then he'll settle and be OK."

Quote of the week

"To be brutally honest, it's not like the NCAA is going to step in and put us on probation. Somebody said something and it got some legs, like everything does, and it will go away."

- Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona on allegations earlier this week from Mid-Atlantic Sports Network broadcaster Gary Thorne that the splotch on pitcher Curt Schilling's sock in the 2004 postseason was paint and not blood. Thorne later said he misunderstood his conversation with Boston catcher Doug Mirabelli that led to Thorne's original statements.

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