El Duque impresses at Mets top O's

March 28, 2008 7:06:15 PM PDT
Orlando Hernandez has a new pain-free windup that looks like the high-kicking El Duque of old. Now the right-hander must wait to find out whether he has pitched well enough to secure the fifth spot in the New York Mets' starting rotation.Starting for only the second time this spring training, Hernandez allowed four hits and a run in five innings in the Mets' 4-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Friday.

The game may have been the Orioles' final appearance at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. Proposed improvements to the facility, which has housed the Orioles for 13 years, have been held up awaiting approval of the Federal Aviation Administration. Baltimore could move to Vero Beach, Fla., which will be vacated by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2009 if their new spring site in Glendale, Ariz., is completed on schedule.

Showing no signs of the bunion on his right foot that troubled him earlier this spring, Hernandez walked one and struck out two. He credited a new version of his old windup - now he pushes off flat-footed with his right foot instead of with the point of his toe - with the improved mechanics.

"I feel better. I feel more comfortable in my delivery. ... I feet great," Hernandez said.

Mets manager Willie Randolph will meet with his staff to determine the fifth starter.

"I always feel comfortable with Duque. He's an excellent pitcher. He's been a great pitcher for a long time," Randolph said. "If he's healthy and strong then I feel very comfortable with him, yes."

Right-hander Mike Pelfrey, one of Hernandez's competitors for the spot, breezed through two innings then wasted a 3-1 ninth-inning lead and took the loss, his ERA rising to 8.14. Baltimore tied the game on Jay Payton's two-out single and won it when Eider Torres blooped a hit behind third base, allowing Payton to score from third.

Greg Aquino got the win with two innings of scoreless relief.

Baltimore's Daniel Cabrera allowed two runs and three hits in five innings. He walked five and struck out two.

"He pitched OK, but he's got to stay away from the walks, especially with two outs," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said.