- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 24, 2002

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. The Baltimore Orioles placed probable fifth starter Calvin Maduro on the disabled list yesterday, a move that actually may make manager Mike Hargrove's final roster decisions easier.
Maduro went on the 15-day DL with a strained right forearm, an injury that occurred last week while swinging a bat. However, because the move was made retroactive to Friday, he'll be eligible to return April 6 one day before his first scheduled start of the season.
That in turn will allow Hargrove to keep an extra position player for at least the first week of the season, most likely a third catcher.
"I want to make real clear that this wasn't done because [Maduro] is the fifth starter and we wouldn't need him 'til later in the month," Hargrove said. "This was done because of the forearm strain. That's something he's been battling since his last start."
Maduro's injury opens the door for other players looking to make the Opening Day roster, particularly pitcher Rodrigo Lopez, who got the start in Maduro's place yesterday as the Orioles defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 2-1. Lopez, a six-year minor league free agent from Mexico, allowed one run and four hits over four innings in his first start.
The 26-year-old right-hander already had impressed the coaching staff during three long relief appearances (he has a 3.46 ERA in 13 innings) and is close to clinching a spot in the bullpen, much like six-year free agent Willis Roberts did last year.
"There will be some [minor league free agents on the roster]," Hargrove said. "I'd be surprised if there are none."
Lopez previously pitched in the San Diego Padres organization and made six starts in the majors in 2000. He dazzled the Orioles with his winter ball performance in Mexico, where he went 10-2 with a 2.49 ERA and led the Culiacan Tomato Growers to the Caribbean Series title with a four-hit shutout over Puerto Rico.
"I think this is my best opportunity to make a big league club," Lopez said. "I feel like I'm pitching the best in my career, and these guys are giving me the opportunity to stay here. Every outing they let me throw at least three innings, so I think there's a good chance."
Meanwhile, Maduro said he first felt the strain in his right arm March 16 against the Cardinals during a rare plate appearance. He had hoped the soreness would dissipate over the last week, but the injury lingered enough to warrant a trip to the DL.
"It's no big deal," he said. "It's just a matter of giving it time. It only can get better from here."
Though Hargrove has yet to name him the Orioles' No.5 starter officially, Maduro has locked up the role and remains on schedule to pitch April 7 against the Boston Red Sox. Because Baltimore has an off day April 2, the fifth starter isn't needed the first time through the rotation.
"If they tell me they want me to pitch the 7th, I'll be ready," Maduro said.
Hargrove had planned on beginning the year with a 12-man pitching staff, but Maduro's injury means the Orioles will likely break camp with 11 pitchers (four starters) and 14 position players.
It also means Baltimore could open the season with three catchers, just as it did last year. Brook Fordyce, Geronimo Gil and Fernando Lunar have been battling for two spots this spring, and it appeared the Orioles would have to move one of them before Opening Day.
Fordyce, who struggled both at and behind the plate last year, has a three-year, $7.7million contract, so his place on the team has been assured all along. Gil has impressed the coaching staff the most this spring he's batting .367 with one homer and six RBI and has made a strong case for a roster spot. Lunar could benefit from some more time in the minor leagues, but he is out of options, whereas Gil could be sent down without having to pass through waivers.
With an extra week on their hands before they have to make a final decision, the Orioles can keep all three catchers and showcase one of them (likely Lunar) for potential suitors.
"The possibility of carrying three catchers is still there," Hargrove said. "I don't expect one to be traded, but it wouldn't surprise me."
Outfielder Chris Singleton and first baseman David Segui remain out with strained Achilles' tendons, though Hargrove said he would be "surprised" if either of them opens the year on the DL. …
Jose Leon's ninth-inning double scored Larry Bigbie from second to give the Orioles the victory over the Cardinals yesterday. Melvin Mora homered for Baltimore, which improved its exhibition record to 15-7-1.

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