- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 27, 2004

VERO BEACH, Fla. — If it was indeed a casting call, then Matt Riley probably got the part.

Before he faced the Los Angeles Dodgers yesterday, Riley figured his performance would go a long way toward determining his bid to become the fifth starter in the Baltimore Orioles’ rotation.

“This is like an audition,” said the left-hander, who is competing with Erik Bedard.

Obviously pumped, Riley blanked the Dodgers over 4⅓ innings, allowing three hits and striking out four to help the Orioles to an 11-4 victory.

“Outstanding,” Baltimore manager Lee Mazzilli said. “He kept the ball down, mixed in his curveball well and had command of his fastball. He threw 94, 95 [mph]. He threw the ball extremely well, with confidence.”

It was Baltimore’s first win in six games, but the victory was tempered by discouraging news from back home.

Second baseman Jerry Hairston saw a hand specialist in Baltimore and learned that his broken finger will keep him sidelined into May. He originally hoped to return by April20.

Executive vice president Jim Beattie said it will be three weeks before Hairston has the splint removed from his right ring finger.

“Then it’ll be another three weeks until he’s ready to play. So we’re looking at another five to six weeks from now,” Beattie said. “The bone is healed; it’s just the soft tissue in there that has to heal, and that takes time.”

The Orioles have no intention of rushing Hairston.

“We’re being extremely careful because it’s the kind of thing where if you don’t take your time, instead of a month you miss half the season,” Beattie said. “We’re going to be a stronger club when he comes back, no doubt about it.”

Brian Roberts will play second base until Hairston returns. The two were supposed to battle for the starting spot this spring, but that duel has been delayed.

Mazzilli didn’t know about the severity of Hairston’s injury until told by reporters.

“I had a good day until now,” he said.

Riley, meanwhile, gained an edge in his competition with Bedard with a sparkling effort in which he failed to allow a runner past second base and improved to 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA.

Mazzilli wouldn’t anoint Riley as his fifth starter but said, “He’s making a strong case for himself, I can tell you that. He’s pitched well all spring training. He really has.”

Notes — Mazzilli intends to have third baseman Melvin Mora start the season as the No.2 batter in the lineup, ahead of Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro and Javy Lopez. “He can get on base for our big guys,” Mazzilli said of Mora, who went 1-for-2 with a homer and a walk yesterday in the second spot. Mora is batting .227 this spring but he hit .317 last year and was the Orioles’ lone representative in the All-Star Game. …

The open-air dugouts in Dodgertown provided the Orioles with no protection from three rain showers, two of which temporarily stopped play.

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