In Three-Pitch Monte, Curveball Loses Out

By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 16, 2006

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., March 15 -- Baltimore Orioles pitcher Kris Benson's experimentation with three new pitches may have ended on Wednesday. Benson said he likely will now only focus on throwing a cutter and change-up, all but abandoning the curveball he had been trying to master.

"Right now, I'm going to concentrate on the two pitches that will be more important for me," Benson said. "For now, I'll set our sights on the cutter and change-up."

Benson, using mainly his fastball, cutter and change-up, allowed one run in four innings in Baltimore's 3-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox. It was Benson's best performance of the spring.

"I think he's starting to buy into some of the things Leo [Mazzone] has been telling him," Manager Sam Perlozzo said.

Before Wednesday, Benson had allowed five earned runs in five innings.

"Today was a big step in moving closer to where I need to be," Benson said.

Benson said he began to think about eliminating his curveball several days ago. After throwing in the bullpen, catcher Brandon Marsters suggested that perhaps Benson focus more on the other two pitches.

"It give me less to worry about," Benson said.

Benson said he had previously thrown a cutter, but this winter he decided to change his grip on the pitch. When he came to spring training, Mazzone noticed the new grip was similar to that of a former pupil, Chicago Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux, whom Mazzone coached when both were with the Atlanta Braves. Mazzone made a few adjustments and now Benson has the same grip on the cutter as Maddux, a four-time Cy Young Award winner.

"If it works for him, then hopefully it works for me," Benson said.

A Dominican Idol

Perlozzo said he pulled himself away from watching "American Idol" for a few minutes Tuesday night to watch Oriole Daniel Cabrera pitch for the Dominican Republic in its 2-1 victory over Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. Cabrera pitched four hitless innings, striking out seven.

"I succumbed to watching," Perlozzo said. "He threw the ball really well with a lot of confidence. I was real pleased except that he won."

The Dominican victory means that Cabrera will rejoin the Orioles on Monday at the earliest.

Perlozzo said he had to send his wife to the other room so he could watch the game. Beth Perlozzo was watching "American Idol," though the manager said he couldn't totally pull himself away from the show either.

"I was flipping back and forth," Perlozzo said.

Venezuela's loss means that catcher Ramon Hernandez will rejoin the Orioles on Thursday. Pitcher Rodrigo Lopez and catcher Geronimo Gil, part of Mexico's team that has been eliminated from the semifinals, likely will rejoin the team on Saturday.

"They're trickling back in," Perlozzo said. . . .

Count South Korea as another team that has benefited from Mazzone's teachings. In early January, Mazzone spent 10 days in Hawaii working with 18 pitchers from South Korea's team. Now, South Korea's 1.40 ERA is the lowest among teams in the Classic.

"They've got a lot of talent," Mazzone said.

Mazzone needed the help of several interpreters, saying he never learned how to say "down and away" in Korean.

Williams Still Out

Pitcher Todd Williams, who had been nursing a sore right shoulder, was held back from his scheduled throwing session because of a strained his right calf.

"Todd had a setback," Perlozzo said.

Williams has been out of action since the second day of spring training.

"His arm is fine now and we're trying to nurse the calf back," Perlozzo said. . . .

Pitcher Chris Britton was reassigned to the team's minor league camp. In four innings this spring, Britton had a 2.25 ERA. . . . Rookie Hayden Penn pitched three scoreless innings, lowering his ERA to 1.12.

Quotable "After the first two games he plays we'll have a better idea." Orioles Manager Sam Perlozzo , on 2B Brian Roberts's chances of starting on Opening Day Up Next vs. Cardinals In Jupiter, Fla., 1 p.m.

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