- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 29, 2002

ARLINGTON, Texas Sean Douglass would like nothing more than to be a member of the Baltimore Orioles' starting rotation next season. And there is perhaps no better way for the 23-year-old right-hander to make his case than to pitch well in an Orioles uniform this September, when rosters expand to include minor leaguers.

"September is very important for anybody that's trying to make the team next year," said Douglass, who was recalled from Class AAA Rochester last Sunday and is due to get a good look from the Orioles over the next month. "If I can pitch well then, I think that's the biggest thing for me now."

So if there is a ballplayer out there who would be opposed to tomorrow's strike date, Douglass would seem the perfect candidate. He makes the major league minimum ($200,000 this year) and has nothing to gain and everything to lose by a prolonged strike.

"If there's not a full September, then anybody they really want to call up and look at isn't going to have a chance," Douglass said before last night's game against the Texas Rangers

Yet this rookie pitcher, who has made a total of nine appearances in two brief stints with the Orioles this season, doesn't have to think twice about standing beside his fellow major leaguers and walking away tomorrow if a last-minute agreement is not reached.

"There's so much respect for the game and the players in it," Douglass said. "You're going to do what everybody else does just because there is that respect."

To a man, Douglass' younger Baltimore teammates echo those sentiments. Rookies with little to no major league service time have no qualms about following their elders' lead, even though they know it might hurt their short-term prospects.

"It's in our best interests," rookie right-hander John Stephens said. "I'm going to be in the same position as those guys someday. So I'll stand by them because there's a chance this could happen again and I could be in the same boat."

Like Douglass, Stephens hopes to use the final month of this season to state his case for a permanent spot in next year's rotation. He has made six starts with the Orioles over the last month (including last night), so if the rest of 2002 is wiped out, he will have made some impression on the club.

But not everyone has that luxury. At least a half-dozen players are counting on baseball in September to make an impression on manager Mike Hargrove, his coaching staff and vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift.

For what it's worth, Hargrove said he tries not to put too much stock in September performances. He doesn't want to overestimate someone's abilities based on a late-season appearance against a non-contending opponent.

"There are a lot of mistakes made in evaluating in September and spring training," Hargrove said. "You need to be careful because in both periods the performances of young players can be deceiving."

September isn't just a time for young players, though. The final month of the season also can be important for players coming back from injuries, like veteran right-hander Pat Hentgen.

Since undergoing elbow ligament replacement surgery last August, Hentgen has set his sights on a September return to the Orioles' rotation. Hentgen's reasons are obvious: His two-year contract expires at the end of this season, but if he can come back and pitch well next month he might convince the Orioles to pick up his $6million option for 2003.

"For a veteran player like Pat, I think September's very important," Hargrove said. "Not necessarily the success or the failures you might have but getting back into a competitive situation."

For Hentgen, September could mean the difference between a sizable contract extension and a chance to resurrect his career with the Orioles and an uncertain winter on the open market.

Come tomorrow, though, he'll stand right alongside his fellow union members, veterans and rookies, willing to risk his future for the larger cause.

"I think it's a tribute to the union," veteran shortstop Mike Bordick said. "It shows that the veteran players do explain things and know the importance of staying strong."

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