In no hurry Evans, 40, is confident that gradual steps will take him to Orioles' goal


SARASOTA, Fla. -- Sitting on a training room table he looks like the leading candidate for a "M*A*S*H" unit. He has an ice park on his right knee, a supportive bandage around his back and a smile on his face.

"I'm fine," said Dwight Evans, 40, aware that his appearance might need some explanation. He's in a new setting, surrounded by different people for the first time in 19 years, and his physical condition is monitored carefully by training camp observers.

His absence from early exhibition games can't be routinely ignored, despite reassurances from manager Frank Robinson that precaution is the key word in his training program. Although he admits to trying to do too much too soon, Evans said his preparation requires no definite timetable and he's satisfied with his progress.

"The same thing happened to [Jim] Palmer," Evans said of his over-enthusiasm in the opening days of camp. "Jim came in and tried to do all the things those young kids were doing -- and it just can't be done."

In Evans' case, he wanted to be ready to go the first day, so he reported two days before the pitchers and catchers and pushed himself to the limit. "I wanted to fit in," he said. "I wanted to do what everybody else was doing."

In the process, Evans may have done too much and, even though both insist he's physically sound, Robinson decided to tighten the reins. He said he's not concerned about how many at-bats Evans gets down here, and it wouldn't bother him if Evans didn't play in the field until the final 10 days to two weeks of the exhibition season.

"Frank has handled me with kid gloves," said Evans, who has just two at-bats as designated hitter in the first week of exhibition play. "He knows what it takes for me to get ready.

"And I think he's right in his thinking about playing the outfield. It's going to take some work -- I haven't played out there in a year and a half -- and I'm anxious to get out there again, but there's no rush."

Evans is one of three projected regulars currently missing at-bats. Randy Milligan is ready to return to the lineup after a week's absence because of a jammed ankle, and Glenn Davis probably will miss another game or two with a muscle spasm in his neck. But Robinson said he won't force at-bats this early in the preseason -- that he'll find time near the end if necessary.

"I like what Frank said [about not rushing anything]," said Evans. "He knows what Randy can do firsthand and he knows what Glenn can do from his record. I guess the only doubt, really, is me.

"I told Frank when we talked earlier that the worst he could expect was last year [when Evans hit 13 home runs and drove in 67 runs]. The only way there would be any pressure on me would be if I couldn't play the outfield," said Evans. "I would feel bad if I couldn't do that."

Signed as a free agent after the Red Sox decided not to pick up his option, Evans' role with the Orioles changed before he even played a game. When Steve Finley was included in the trade for Davis, it opened up a lot of playing time in the outfield.

Evans would like to assume his share of that time, but doesn't feel it necessary, or wise, to make any guarantees. "I would like to tell Frank I can give him 110-120 games in the outfield in addition to some more as designated hitter," said Evans. "I'd like that, and it would mean I'm doing the job.

"But I don't want to set a certain number of games as a goal. I'm not here to survive, I'm here to win and because I love the thrill of the game, the competition between the hitter and pitcher. I just hope I can do the job for the Orioles."

Still, Evans is not oblivious to the fact his physical condition will be a major factor in the role he plays for the Orioles. "I realize there's a concern," he said. "But I like the way Frank has handled me.

"I haven't had a lot of at-bats, but I've had a lot of time in the batting cage. I've never had so many swings in spring training.

"I don't think I need a lot of at-bats during the spring," said Evans. "Last year I had eight -- and my first [regular-season] at-bat was a double off the wall. If I get 30 to 35 at-bats by the end of camp that would probably be enough.

"This is a tough time of spring for any manager -- you're trying to give the young guys some playing time while getting the others ready. We haven't put one club on the field yet, but we have the people here who can put together the right combination."

Ideally, the Orioles would like to get 120-130 games out of Evans. If half of them are in the outfield so much the better.

He thinks there's a direct correlation between his drop in run production and not being able to play in the outfield, which is one reason he'd like to return at least as a part-time position player. A bone spur in the back that restricted him last year has not been a problem so far this spring, and he is quick to remind that the ice pack on a knee that has had minor surgery several times is a normal routine.

"Last year I got by on instinct and knowledge," he admitted. "I was weak because of what I went through physically [with his back]. But at the end of the year I was taking fly balls in the outfield and it felt great.

"When I came into camp Frank told me he hoped I could play the outfield, that I could help more if I could -- but that if I couldn't do it, not to worry about it.

"Taking practice in the outfield the other night was fun," said Evans. "And I thought I threw the ball pretty good."

It was the first of several steps the Orioles hope Evans gradually can make this spring.

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