FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., March 24 -- Sidney Ponson said he had been told weeks ago that he wasn't going to be the Baltimore Orioles' Opening Day starter. It was only coincidence that Rodrigo Lopez got the assignment the day after Ponson's latest off-field incidents surfaced.
Ponson, who had a much-publicized altercation with a judge in Aruba on Christmas day, suffered a minor hand injury on Tuesday when he struck a patron at a local restaurant. The injury caused Ponson to push back a Thursday bullpen session to Friday, and he is questionable for his start on Sunday against the Minnesota Twins.
Sidney Ponson suffered a minor hand injury on Tuesday when he struck a patron at a local restaurant.
(James A. Finley - AP)
_____From The Post_____
Sidney Ponson injured his hand in an off-field incident.
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Further complicating matters for the right-hander was the revelation, first reported Thursday on the Baltimore Sun's Web site, that Ponson was charged with driving under the influence two months ago.
Ponson, 28, was arrested early on Jan. 21 on Interstate 95 in Fort Lauderdale, the Florida Highway Patrol told the Associated Press Thursday night. A trooper on routine patrol in Broward County observed a vehicle traveling behind his operated by Ponson traveling about 85 mph in a 65-mph zone, according to Lt. Bill Ferrell.
The trooper ordered the vehicle to stop and, upon questioning the driver, said he smelled a strong odor of alcohol, Ferrell said. Ponson failed field sobriety tests, was arrested and taken to the Broward County jail for processing.
A court date has not been set.
Ponson's agent, Barry Praver, said late Thursday, "Because it's an ongoing matter, I cannot comment." And Orioles spokesman Bill Stetka said, "We're still gathering information and looking into it."
As for Tuesday's altercation, Praver said the pitcher was acting in self-defense. No arrests were made and the team will not discipline Ponson.
"In this particular case, Sidney tried to be a peacemaker by ignoring this intoxicated person who obviously had an agenda," Praver said. "When that person got physical with Sidney, there became a point where he had to defend himself."
According to Praver, who was not at the restaurant but was told of the incident by Ponson, the pitcher was having dinner with his girlfriend when a customer approached the couple. The man proceeded to antagonize Ponson, shoving him repeatedly.
"He keeps going on and on and he was nagging me for a minute," Ponson said. "Words never hurt but he touched me and then I had to draw the line. You could clearly see the guy was intoxicated. It's one of those things you can't do nothing about. It happened so fast, they couldn't catch him."
X-rays of his hand taken Wednesday showed no breaks. The hand did not appear swollen, but Ponson said he felt slight pain while throwing.
"I think it's just another reminder to Sidney, and a lot of ballplayers, that you have to be careful when you're out in public and put yourself in the right situations," Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Jim Beattie said. "You have to be sensitive that type of thing might happen."
Ponson had said the incident in Aruba this winter had caused him to examine his activities off the field.
"I always protect myself, I always have people around me," Ponson said on Feb. 21. "You go to a nice restaurant or a bar, you can tell who's behind you and can try to provoke you. If I know the guy's going to do it, then they will kick him out. If they don't, I will leave. It won't hurt me to go home or somewhere else."
Ponson's demotion to the number two starter has been the most minor of his offseason troubles. He was satisfied with Manager Lee Mazzilli's decision to promote Lopez to the top spot in the rotation, including the Opening Day start on April 4 against the Oakland Athletics.
"In my heart I know he deserves it," Ponson said. "He was the best pitcher last season."
Last season Lopez began the year in the bullpen, but ended the season as the team's most consistent starter. Lopez led all starters in wins (14) and ERA (3.59).
"I just found out," Lopez said. "I am very excited about it. Like I said before, I feel it's just a reward from last year. All the changes I went through, getting assigned to the bullpen and stuff. I am happy and look forward to starting the season."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.