- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

From combined dispatches

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. Rodrigo Lopez and two relievers combined on a four-hitter as the Baltimore Orioles beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-0 yesterday.

Lopez, the Orioles' probable opening day pitcher, allowed three singles in five innings the longest outing by a Baltimore starter this spring.

Though he was supposed to pitch only four innings, Lopez was sent out for the fifth inning to get some more work. He finished with 54 pitches and had success with a slider that confused the Cardinals.

"I've been working on my slider with [pitching coach] Mark Wiley and he's right you're not usually used to seeing a slider until the middle of the season," Lopez said.

Jeff Conine drove in three runs and Jerry Hairston had three hits for the Orioles, who stopped a four-game losing streak.

Rick Bauer pitched two hitless innings, and Kerry Ligtenberg allowed one hit over the final two innings.

Matt Morris, the Cardinals' opening-day starter, gave up four runs and nine hits in 4⅓ innings.

"We're still trying to get them in shape. … The starters need to get in condition," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said after his team's fourth straight loss.

Luis Pujols had a first-inning single for St. Louis, giving him a hit in each of the 11 games he has played this spring.

Baltimore took a 2-0 lead in the first. After loading the bases on three singles, Conine hit a sacrifice fly and Jay Gibbons added an RBI single. Conine added a two-run single in the fifth, chasing Morris.

Widow entitled to $450,000

The widow of Baltimore pitcher Steve Bechler will be paid $450,000 in life insurance, major league baseball's pension committee decided.

Bechler died on Feb. 17 from heatstroke a day after collapsing during a workout at training camp. In his preliminary autopsy report, Broward County chief medical examiner Dr. Joshua Perper linked Bechler's death to a diet supplement that contains ephedra.

A bottle of Xenadrine RFA-1, an over-the-counter weight-loss product containing ephedra, was found in Bechler's locker after he collapsed.

Perper is expected to hold a news conference tomorrow to disclose the findings of the autopsy performed on the pitcher.

Bechler pitched in three games after being called up from Class AAA Rochester by the Orioles last September. Under the old collective bargaining agreement, Bechler would have not have been covered by the life insurance because he had only 27 days of major league service. But under the deal agreed to last August, all players on 40-man rosters are covered, regardless of service time.

The payment is to be made to Kiley Bechler, the pitcher's widow, who is eight months pregnant.

O's acquire Cust

The Baltimore sent outfielder-first baseman Chris Richard and cash to the Colorado Rockies for power-hitting outfield prospect Jack Cust.

The 24-year-old Cust hit .265 with 23 home runs and 55 RBI with Class AAA Colorado Springs last year. In 35 games with the Rockies, who acquired him for left-handed reliever Mike Myers in January 2002, he batted .169 with one homer and eight RBI.

Richard missed the first four months of last season recovering from left shoulder surgery. He hit .232 with four homers and 21 RBI, but has not played the outfield since 2001 while recovering from shoulder surgery.

"I haven't made throws from the outfield on consecutive days," said the 28-year-old Richard, acquired from St. Louis for pitcher Mike Timlin in July 2000. "I'm sure the shoulder will be able to handle it. … I hope the Rockies realize that I'm less than 100 percent throwing from the outfield."

The Orioles were thwarted in their attempt to land a middle-of-the-lineup power hitter through trade or free agency over the winter.

Cust could play designated hitter for the Orioles, who still have a logjam of corner outfielders and first basemen. Because Cust has a minor league option remaining, he could start the season at Class AAA Ottawa.

O's send down 10

The Orioles cut 10 players, reducing to 48 the number of players in camp. Right-hander Sean Douglass and outfielder Darnell McDonald were optioned to Class AAA Ottawa. Right-hander Mike Paradis, left-hander Matt Riley, shortstop Ed Rogers and catcher Eli Whiteside were optioned to Class AA Bowie and right-hander Daniel Cabrera was optioned to Class A Delmarva. Three non-roster invitees were also cut. Right-hander Rio Beltran and third baseman Brian Rios were outrighted to Ottawa and outfielder Tim Raines Jr. was outrighted to Bowie.

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