Two weeks ago, the Baltimore Orioles quietly wondered whether veteran Pat Hentgen had enough left in his right arm to make their Opening Day roster. But now, after Hentgen's second straight solid outing, it appears the only question will be whether his spot will be in the rotation or the bullpen.
With spring training entering its final week today, Hentgen delivered his best performance, limiting the Minnesota Twins to five hits and one earned run over six innings in a 4-3 victory at Hammond Stadium. Hentgen's spring ERA fell from 8.36 to 6.30.
Locked in a battle with veteran right-hander Rick Helling for the final rotation spot -- and with the loser seemingly headed to the bullpen as the long reliever -- Hentgen at the very least kept pace with Helling.
"I signed here three seasons ago and blew my elbow out in May [of 2001], and this organization has been nothing but outstanding to me," Hentgen said.
"And I'll do whatever they want me to do. I work for them. If being a starter is where I help the team, or if being in the bullpen is where I help the team, that's all that matters to me."
It has been 191/2 months since Hentgen underwent elbow ligament-replacement surgery (the so-called "Tommy John" surgery), and he finally appears to have every weapon back in his arsenal. The latest sign was the outstanding change-up he had today, which he used to strike out Torii Hunter in the fourth inning to get out of his only jam.
"That was the pitch that hurt me in September," Hentgen said, referring to his shaky return from elbow surgery, when he posted an 0-4 record and 7.77 ERA. "I babied that pitch and would leave it right down the middle. It's an important pitch for me, and it's important for me to keep it down. . . .It's been frustrating the last two seasons because I haven't been healthy. But I'm healthy now and I really feel like I can win games."
It now appears the Orioles will head north Saturday morning with a rotation consisting of Rodrigo Lopez, Omar Daal, Sidney Ponson, Jason Johnson and either Helling or Hentgen -- although the order beyond Daal is subject to change.
Orioles Notes: With either Helling or Hentgen apparently headed to the bullpen for long relief, it means lefty Eric DuBose and right-hander Travis Driskill are headed to Class AAA Ottawa, where, according to Orioles Manager Mike Hargrove, they would be used as starters.
However, Ottawa's rotation now appears as crowded as the Orioles', with right-handers John Stephens, Sean Douglass and Mike Drumwright and lefty John Parrish all slotted there. . . . The team will cut seven more players Tuesday, Hargrove said, which would reduce the active camp roster from 40 to 33.