SARASOTA, Fla. -- Mission accomplished. Almost.
Spring training should be all downhill for the Orioles from this point.
They survived the most grueling part of their 33-game exhibition schedule about as well as could be expected. Their regular lineup is starting to take shape. There are no more significant injuries. And, after today, travel will be severely curtailed, allowing manager Frank Robinson and his coaching staff the needed time to apply the finishing touches to a rigorous spring training.
"I'm not completely satisfied with the results, but we're about where I'd hoped to be at this point," said Robinson.
After yesterday's 6-6, 12-inning tie with the Phillies, the Orioles go to Florida's east coast with a 9-10-1 record.
"You always like to win, so I'd like to have a few more," said Robinson. "But the main thing is to make sure you get your people ready. And I think we've done that."
The Orioles will play 10 games in the next nine days (they have split-squad games against the Expos tomorrow), but they won't be as important as the available practice time. The club will put down stakes in Pompano Beach, where the Texas Rangers used to train, and their last eight games in Florida will be played within 30 miles of that base.
"We'll work out before games every chance we get," said Robinson. "We still have some work to do on fundamentals. The night games [four of the last eight] will give us a chance to get in some extra work."
For pitching coach Al Jackson this will be the most important phase of spring training. "The vacation is over," said Jackson, not meaning to imply that the Orioles' stay in Sarasota has been a party.
"We've got to get the starters going as far as they can, at least six innings. This is when you have to get it together."
Robinson said he wants to stretch out his starters -- but none will be allowed to go more than seven innings before the season starts. There are three reasons for the restriction.
"First of all, if you go seven innings, then you can go nine," said Robinson. "But I don't see anybody who's going to go nine innings during the first part of the season anyhow. Plus we have to make sure the relievers get enough work."
Robinson admits more pitching progress is needed. "As far as our work, we're on schedule," he said. "But we're not as sharp as I'd like to see us right now. We're getting behind too many hitters, even for spring training. That's something we've got to work on in these last nine days -- throwing strikes and working ahead in the count. You can't go seven innings if it's going to take 150 pitches to get that far."
With 37 players still in camp, the Orioles have a lot of personnel decisions to make. Some will be made for them in the coming week, but others could go down to the final two days, when the Orioles play the Red Sox in Washington's RFK Stadium.
The third base picture is no clearer now than it was at the beginning of camp. Incumbent Craig Worthington appears to have a slight edge over Leo Gomez, but the issue is far from resolved.
In addition, Robinson will have to decide between Tim Hulett and Jeff McKnight for one of the utility positions -- and also figure out a role for Joe Orsulak, who always seems to be overlooked in spring training.
All indications are that Ernie Whitt has an advantage over Larry
Sheets as the extra lefthanded hitter on the bench. Sheets, who had volunteered to work as a third catcher, has not been utilized in that capacity since he warmed up pitchers his first day TC in camp.
In some areas the Orioles appear to be well ahead of schedule. Dwight Evans, who hit his first homer of the spring yesterday, has played rightfield three straight days. He wasn't even scheduled to suit up for the game.
Robinson wouldn't say why Evans was a late addition to the lineup. But the veteran outfielder accompanied the team to Clearwater, then was given permission to proceed to the east coast ahead of the team, easing his travel burden.
Evans had not been scheduled to play in the field until later this week. But he accelerated the schedule and has seemed to remove any doubts about his capability of playing rightfield -- a major question mark facing Robinson before spring training.
What remains for the Orioles is the fine tuning, which means the next nine days will be the most important part of their preseason preparation.