Milligan hits his stride in left-field test


VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Randy Milligan had two strikes against him when he arrived in spring training, but opposing pitchers still are finding that he's a tough out.

Milligan's offensive performance was supposed to be affected by the shoulder injury that cost him the last two months of the 1990 season. And if that wasn't enough, the move from first base to left field was certain to erode his concentration at the plate.

So much for conventional wisdom. Milligan has been one of the hottest hitters in the Baltimore Orioles lineup, and he continued to hammer the ball in yesterday's 17-9 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Holman Stadium.

He hit his third home run of the spring in the second inning, a towering fly ball off Dodgers starter Fernando Valenzuela that not only cleared the fence and the knoll behind it, but also whistled through the stand of Australian pines that enclose the stadium.

Milligan also delivered a run-scoring double in the fourth, as the Orioles knocked Valenzuela out of the game. Milligan has nine hits in his past 19 at-bats, with three home runs and eight RBI.

It figured to be a difficult spring, especially after Milligan suffered a sprained ankle in the first game of the Grapefruit League season. But even the outfield experiment has gone well enough that Milligan now is considered the starting left fielder.

Manager Frank Robinson said Milligan is going to have some tough days out there, but the Orioles are ready to take their chances.

"You just hope it doesn't affect him mentally," Robinson said. "So far, it doesn't look like it has. He's done well, and he's going to get better as time goes by."

Milligan, batting .435 overall, said he came to camp determined not to let anything affect his offensive performance.

"I've said all along I can't let playing the outfield affect my hitting," Milligan said. "It does them no good if I play left field and don't hit. You know the old saying: 'Hit in more than you let in.' "

* Left-hander Jeff Ballard had his first rough outing of the spring, though much of the damage in his six-inning, six-run performance came on two swings of the bat.

Former Orioles first baseman Eddie Murray hit a three-run home run in the first inning, erasing the three-run lead that Craig Worthington provided with his three-run shot in the top of the inning. Catcher Gary Carter hit a two-run homer in the sixth.

Ballard gave up 10 hits and still got credit for his third exhibition victory, but he limped off the field with a torn toenail on his left foot, an injury he suffered running out a ground ball.

"It made it hard to push off, but it wasn't enough to come out of the game over," he said. "I thought I threw the ball pretty well after the first inning. It felt good to go six innings. I could have gone more.

"It wasn't real difficult. You usually throw pretty relaxed when you have a big lead like that. I don't like giving up six runs, but there were some positive things I got out of it."

* Collier County commissioners have given the Orioles and Florida Rock Industries 30 days to submit detailed plans for a new spring training center.

Team and county officials have said they hope the proposed stadium, to be built on land donated by Florida Rock Industries, will be completed in time for 1993 spring training.

Team representatives said on Friday that the Orioles and Florida Rock Industries should have a signed agreement on the stadium site by the end of this week.

Plans call for the county to build the stadium and related facilities with a $15 million bond issue to be retired from the

proceeds of a 3 percent tourist tax on hotel and motel rooms.

The Orioles have agreed to guarantee the bonds in the event the bed-tax revenue falls short of retiring all the bonds.

* Robinson is turning over a new leaf, or so he says. He says he will avoid any serious confrontation with the umpires this year, no matter how controversial the call.

"I'm not fooling with those guys," he said. "I'm going to go the whole year without getting thrown out of a game."

* Designated hitter Sam Horn is batting .306 and ranks among the team leaders in virtually every offensive department, but his 1991 prospects depend only marginally on his performance at the plate this spring.

Robinson continues to tie Horn's playing time to Dwight Evans' ability to play right field. If Evans has to DH, then Horn will get far fewer at-bats.

"That definitely will depend on what we're facing with Evans," Robinson said. "If he plays right field, Sam is going to get more at-bats."

Horn will play largely against right-handed pitching. Evans will not be platooned if he is physically ready to DH regularly.

* The Orioles still have no feel for how many games Evans will be able to play in the outfield, but Robinson seems confident that he will play some defensive role.

"I'm sure he'll be able to give us some games out there," Robinson said, "but I don't know about numbers."

Evans played three straight games in the outfield before the Orioles headed for the east coast of Florida yesterday. He was not in the lineup for yesterday's game against the Dodgers.

* More than 54,000 tickets have been sold for Saturday night's game against the New York Yankees at Joe Robbie Stadium. About 37,000 tickets have been sold for Sunday's game against the Yankees at Joe Robbie.

Just more proof that the Orioles are big everywhere? Not quite. The denizens of Miami are trying to show that they can support major-league baseball. No doubt, the crowds will be larger than usual for the two games at Washington's RFK Stadium on April 6 and 7.

* Shortstop Cal Ripken has been one of the hottest hitters in

baseball the past 11 games. He has 16 hits in his past 27 at-bats, which works out to a .593 batting average. Ripken's 2-for-2 performance yesterday raised his overall exhibition average to .442.

Joe Orsulak also has been hot, batting .437 in his past 11 games, but he was not in the starting lineup against left-hander Fernando Valenzuela yesterday.

* Baseball America recently ranked Orioles minor-leaguer Arthur Rhodes as the top left-handed pitching prospect in baseball. Rhodes was listed sixth overall among the publication's ranking of baseball's 100 top prospects. Oakland Athletics first-round draft choice Todd Van Poppel was ranked first.

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