- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2004

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — The perform-or-perish mentality that stands between Kurt Ainsworth and a spot in the Baltimore Orioles’ starting rotation is a welcome challenge for the right-hander.

“I love the pressure. … I think I perform better under pressure,” Ainsworth said after his first outing of spring training, a three-inning stint in a 6-1 loss to the Florida Marlins. “I think it brings out my competitive nature.”

Ainsworth allowed two hits and an unearned run, walked none and struck out one during a 50-pitch effort. He threw mainly fastballs — cutters away to right-handed hitters and down-and-away to left-handed swingers — and got five ground-ball outs.

“I liked what I saw — a lot of poise,” Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said. “He looked like he’s belonged out there for a long time.”

Ainsworth’s dedication to rehabilitating a stress fracture in his right shoulder blade last year made an immediate impression on the Orioles. Now he is trying to build on that positive introduction.

“If I can stay healthy for a full season, I think I’ll be OK,” Ainsworth said. “I’m getting my confidence back. I’m not thinking about the injuries any more.”

The competition for the three spots in the rotation behind right-handers Sidney Ponson and Rodrigo Lopez is crowded, but Ainsworth and left-hander Eric DuBose seem to have the inside track for two of the openings.

“That’s for them to decide,” said Ainsworth, who was 5-4 with a 3.82 ERA for San Francisco last season before the shoulder injury. “Anywhere in the rotation would be fine. That’s my goal — just to make the rotation.”

Baltimore thought enough of Ainsworth to make him the centerpiece of the July31 trade that sent Ponson to the Giants — even though Ainsworth was on the disabled list at the time of the deal. Ponson returned to the Orioles as a free agent over the winter.

Meanwhile, David Segui, coming off surgery to repair a tendon in his left wrist, played for the first time this spring, his first action since July25. He started at first base and went 0-for-3. Mazzilli said Segui, who is in the final year of a four-year, $28million contract, would see action today against Los Angeles in Fort Lauderdale.

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