- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. Travis Driskill endured a decade of bus rides, fast-food meals and cramped clubhouses before he finally got the chance to experience life as a major leaguer last year.

The right-hander loved everything about pitching for the Baltimore Orioles. Besides enjoying an upgrade in his paycheck and working conditions, Driskill became friends with NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth and got to spend the offseason with his family instead of playing winter ball.

Now that he's developed a taste for the good life, Driskill has no intention of giving it up. The 31-year-old is competing for a spot in the Baltimore bullpen, which isn't quite as satisfying as being a starter but a heck of a lot better than playing for Orioles' Class AAA affiliate.

"Ottawa is not the most appealing place to pitch," Driskill said. "If it's where I've got to be, it's where I've got to be, but making the team is high on my priority list."

At least he's got a shot, which is more than Driskill could say a year ago. Signed as a minor league free agent in November 2001, he barely had a chance to make an impression before being shipped out.

But Driskill was summoned to the majors for the first time in his career on April 25, and turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of the 2002 season a 30-year-old rookie who won his first five decisions and pitched in 29 games, including 19 starts. He finished 8-8 with a 4.95 ERA and ranked fifth among AL rookies with 78 strikeouts.

Seems as if that decade in the minor leagues was worth it after all.

"He uses everything he's learned all those years to do the things he's got to do," Orioles pitching coach Mark Wiley said. "He does some little things even veteran pitchers don't do."

Driskill doesn't own an overpowering fastball, and the bespectacled 6-foot, 225-pounder is hardly a physical specimen. But the Orioles are convinced he has the guile and tenacity to be an effective major league pitcher.

"Travis is a very confident guy," manager Mike Hargrove said. "He doesn't change his demeanor or personality. He's a very good competitor, knows what it is that makes him tick and stays with it. He won't short-circuit his chances to make this ballclub. A lot of people do because of too much pressure."

After trying to keep his career afloat and support a family as a minor leaguer, Driskill now has some money in his pocket and some valuable experience under his belt. But he knows that his success last year won't mean a thing in 2003.

"It's not about being the 30-year-old rookie anymore. I've got to do the job or I'll be gone," Driskill said.

His job description will remain vague until Hargrove and Wiley settle on the configuration of the bullpen. At this point, Driskill can expect to be used in almost any situation except for closer.

"He's shown he can pitch in the big leagues and he's had some success. The type of pitcher he is, and the knowledge he has, has helped him," Wiley said. "But his game has to be versatility long relief, middle relief, one hitter, spot starter whatever we need him to do."

So far, Driskill has done everything necessary to earn a big league salary in 2003. In four games, he has a 1.50 ERA and has limited the opposition to a .182 batting average.

"I can't be just as good as I was last year. I've got to be better," Driskill said. "I'm sure there are some of adjustments I'll have to make to stay ahead or at least stay equal with the hitters in this league."

Note Jose Macias hit a grand slam and Zach Day gave up one hit in five innings as the Expos beat the Orioles 11-5 yesterday in Viera, Fla.

Oriolers starter Omar Daal gave up four run on six hits over five innings. Jorge Julio took the loss after giving up a tiebreaking solo homer to Jeff Liefer, and O's reliever Mike Mohler was pounded for five runs three earned and three hits in one inning.

Jeff Conine hit a two-run homer for the Orioles, and Melvin Mora and Jose Leon added solo shots.

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