- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2004

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Rodrigo Lopez will begin the season in the Baltimore Orioles’ bullpen after being replaced in the starting rotation by rookie Erik Bedard, who earned the final spot with an outstanding spring.

Bedard is 2-0 with a 2.04 ERA in five exhibition games. Although the left-hander had ligament replacement surgery in September 2002 and pitched in only six minor league games last year, rookie manager Lee Mazzilli felt compelled to make him the fifth starter.

“It’s not so much exactly what he did, but the way he handled things,” Mazzilli said yesterday. “He showed composure on the mound for a young kid. He didn’t seem rattled; he liked to pitch inside and threw a breaking ball at any time. I asked umpires about him, and I got good feedback.”

Bedard, 25, will be optioned to Class AAA Ottawa before the season and called up to make his first major league start on April10 at Tampa Bay.

The Orioles’ pitching rotation will be Sidney Ponson, Eric DuBose, Kurt Ainsworth, Matt Riley and Bedard.

DuBose, Riley and Bedard are left-handers, and Ponson is the only starter in the rotation with at least one full year of major league experience. The other four pitchers have combined for 10 big league wins.

Ponson pitched five effective innings in his final tuneup before his first Opening Day start, and the Orioles roughed up Chris Carpenter in a 10-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Ponson allowed one run, seven hits and a walk. The right-hander will next face the Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards on Sunday night.

Ponson went 2-1 with a 4.85 ERA in six starts this spring.

Lopez won 15 games in 2002 and was runner-up in American League Rookie of the Year balloting, but last year he slumped to 7-10 with a 5.82 ERA. He’s 2-2 with a 3.79 ERA in five exhibition games — solid numbers but not good enough to beat out Bedard for a spot in the rotation.

“I’m real disappointed about the decision,” Lopez said. “I think I did my job as a starter, and I think I did it good enough. That’s all I can say for now.”

Said Mazzilli: “It was a very difficult decision to make. The kid made a case for himself this spring — not that Rodrigo did not, by any stretch. I just feel we’re a stronger club right now going this way.”

Bedard probably cemented his spot in the rotation with his last start, when he struck out nine over six shutout innings against World Series champion Florida last Saturday.

When Mazzilli called Bedard into his office to tell the pitcher of the decision, the left-hander expected the worst.

“I thought I was being sent down,” Bedard said.

Instead, he got great news.

“Finally, all the hard work has paid off,” he said.

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