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Orioles Demote Ponson to 4th Starter

By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 27, 2005; Page E01

JUPITER, Fla., March 26 -- Sidney Ponson pouted like a 10-year-old boy placed on restriction moments after he arrived Saturday morning at the team's training facility. Told he had been demoted to the fourth slot in the rotation, Ponson sat in front of his locker, headphones firmly attached to his head. He ignored the outside world, mainly the reporters he blamed for his latest bit of trouble, a DUI arrest in January that was discovered this week.

He only spoke when reciting defiant lyrics of the music to which he was listening. He smiled briefly to say hello. Otherwise he did not acknowledge reporters, who were told of the team's decision after arriving in Jupiter, when Ponson was not available for comment.

More bad news for Sidney Ponson: He will be the O's 4th starter and face the Yankees in his 1st game. (James A. Finley -- AP)

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Ponson's troubled offseason continued with Saturday's news. Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli announced that Erik Bedard and Daniel Cabrera would be slotted ahead of Ponson in the rotation. Ponson will make his season debut April 8 against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mazzilli stressed Ponson was not being disciplined for not informing the team of his DUI arrest on January 21, or for being involved in an altercation on Tuesday at a Fort Lauderdale restaurant.

"You look at things, you put things in perspective, and you never want to cut your nose to spite your face and do something rash," Mazzilli said. "You've got to think what the right move is for the club and what I think is the best way to go. That's the spot that he fits into for me right now."

Ponson was scheduled to start Sunday's exhibition game against the Minnesota Twins, but instead will be pushed back until Tuesday, when he will pitch in a minor league game in Sarasota. Mazzilli said Ponson's hand injury, suffered in the altercation on Tuesday, was not a factor in pushing him back. But Ponson's off-field problems were part of the decision-making process. Ponson's visa problems, stemming from his court case in Aruba, kept him out of a start. He has pitched in 16 total innings this spring, eight in exhibition games and another eight in intrasquad games. Pitching coach Ray Miller said he wanted Ponson to get two more starts this spring before making his regular season debut.

"I wanted to get everybody 30 [innings]," Miller said. "Sixteen wasn't enough. With the hand situation it made sense to add an extra day."

Cabrera and Bedard's performances this spring have secured their spots in the rotation. No Baltimore pitcher has impressed as much as Cabrera, who last season was mostly ignored by scouts.

"He's made giant leaps for me," Mazzilli said. "Even though it's spring training, just watching his demeanor out there and stuff, it seems like for whatever reason he's kind of turned it up a notch. And Sidney missing some time in there, we've got to be able to stretch him. Having those extra four days or so will work to our advantage."

Several scouts said that Cabrera has turned himself into a solid number one or two pitcher. Cabrera has added 10-12 pounds to what was a wiry frame and now frequently throws in the 95-97 mph range. His change-up also has improved. Scouts also like Bedard, who projects to be a number three starter.

"I just felt that I liked what I saw out of the other two guys, and this is the way I want to go," Mazzilli said.

The same scouts who praised Bedard and Cabrera said Ponson has clearly fallen. The off-field problems make him an unattractive option for several teams looking for a starting pitcher. Though Ponson has dropped 13 pounds this offseason, the scouts said the pitcher still appears out of shape. They also question Ponson's desire.

The decision to drop Ponson to the fourth spot may strategically prove to be correct, though. Last year, Ponson was 2-1 with a 3.04 ERA at Yankee Stadium. Both wins were complete games, and in his outing on Sept. 4 he threw a two-hit shutout against the Yankees.

"I like giving Sidney a couple extra days," Miller said. "I like his experience in New York . . . Because of what happened, the way things are lined up you look at it and it makes sense."

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