- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2002

BALTIMORE Josh Towers doesn't think he's pitching all that poorly right now, at least not poorly enough to warrant a demotion to the bullpen after only three starts.

The Baltimore Orioles, however, think otherwise, and yesterday announced that the second-year right-hander is headed for the bullpen in favor of rookie Rodrigo Lopez.

"It caught me off-guard," said Towers, who is 0-3 with a 5.59 ERA and has surrendered a league-high eight home runs in 19⅓ innings. "You can't take away the fact that I gave up eight home runs in three games, but at the same time I didn't think I was really pitching that bad to the point where this would happen."

The combination of Towers' struggles and Lopez's impressive work as a long reliever made the switch an easy decision for manager Mike Hargrove, even at this early juncture of the season. Lopez will start tonight's game against the Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards.

"We felt like we were at that point where something needed to be done," Hargrove said. "We still believe in Josh a lot. There's just some adjustments he needs to make."

The Orioles are concerned that Towers, a control artist who won the AL Rookie of the Month award last June with a 5-1 record and 1.49 ERA, is relying too much on his fastball and opposing hitters are taking advantage of nearly every mistake he's made. The troubles date all the way back to last summer since his outstanding June, Towers has a 2-11 record and 6.08 ERA.

"Three starts is not a real long time, I agree with Josh in that regard," Hargrove said. "But eight home runs are a lot to give up in three starts. We want Josh to start, and we feel like this is a chance to get him to be the starter that he can be."

Lopez, 26, has been outstanding in the Orioles' bullpen, posting a 1.80 ERA in five appearances, three of which lasted four innings. The rookie right-hander from Mexico, who signed as a minor-league free agent this winter after leading the Culiacan Tomato Growers to the Caribbean Series title, has been a starter most of his career and convinced Hargrove that he deserves a look in the rotation.

"This may last one start, two starts, four starts, 10 starts. Who knows?" Hargrove said. "But as long as Lopez continues to throw well, it gives us a little bit of room to work on some things with Josh that we feel he needs to work on to make him more effective."


Roberts back in Baltimore

With utility player Melvin Mora still in Venezuela following the death of his brother, the Orioles recalled infielder Brian Roberts from Class AAA Rochester yesterday to give them another player off the bench against Boston.

To make room for Roberts, who was batting .317 with 10 RBI and 14 runs in 16 games at Rochester, the Orioles optioned left-hander Erik Bedard back to Class AA Bowie. Bedard, one of Baltimore's top pitching prospects, made two brief appearances out of the bullpen last week, but the Orioles want to groom him to be a starter.

It's still uncertain when Mora will return to the club. He left for Valencia, Venezuela, Sunday morning after receiving word that his brother died over the weekend, and though the team originally hoped to have him back yesterday, the current unrest in his homeland could prevent him from returning for a few more days.

"We've been told that he's going to try to be back [today], but with things like that, you just never know," Hargrove said. "I think Melvin will get back as soon as he can."


Extra bases

Catcher Geronimo Gil returned to the starting lineup last night after missing Sunday's game with a bruised left hand and did not appear to be suffering any effects. Gil, who was hit in the hand by a pitch Saturday in Tampa Bay, homered off Boston's Frank Castillo in his first two at-bats last night.

Lopez's addition will push back the rest of the starting rotation. Calvin Maduro will start tomorrow against Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez, with Jason Johnson, Sidney Ponson and Scott Erickson facing the Royals this weekend in Kansas City.

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