They're coming off their first winning road trip of the year and have won five of the last six, but this is hardly the time for the Orioles to feel comfortable.
There are some changes in the works, some within the next week, others by the time play resumes after the All-Star break. And some of those changes will require major decisions by the club.
Manager John Oates and general manager Roland Hemond are due to meet this afternoon to discuss the status of the club. They will not spend any time reflecting on the 5-2 road trip that concluded with a 7-2 win over the Indians last night in Cleveland.
Before they are finished the Orioles could make moves involving as much as 20 percent of the roster. "We've got some people we have to make decisions on in the next three or four days," Oates said after last night's victory.
The most imminent involve outfielder Dwight Evans, pitcher Ben McDonald and third baseman Craig Worthington. All three are on the disabled list, the latter pair working on a rehabilitation assignment in Rochester.
Evans, sidelined with a sore Achilles' tendon, is eligible to be activated tomorrow and would like to return to face his former Boston Red Sox teammates. He doesn't know if he'll make it. "See me tomorrow," Evans said last night.
"Each day it's a little better, but I don't think he felt as good today as he thought he would," Oates said of Evans. "I know he wants to play against the Red Sox, but I don't know if he'll be ready."
And the Orioles might not be sure of the move they'd make if Evans does return. Brady Anderson has played long stretches as a regular, before and after a stint on the disabled list. Oates said shortly after taking the manager's job that he felt a decision had to be made on the outfielder's status "soon."
Worthington's 20-day rehab assignment ends this weekend and the Orioles could resolve his situation with paperwork, by optioning him to Rochester. From the club's standpoint that makes the most sense, though Oates admits it would be difficult to keep Worthington at Rochester.
"They are both major-league players," Oates said of Leo Gomez, currently holding the job, and Worthington, who held the position until pulling a groin muscle in Detroit more than a month ago. The Orioles don't want to rush into a trade when the market is low, which could serve as a detriment to Worthington, who has been hitting good since joining the Rochester lineup.
Another pressing decision involves McDonald, who has not been impressive in two rehab starts at Rochester. The big righthander is scheduled to pitch Monday, but whether it will be for the Orioles or the Red Wings remains to be seen. His numbers indicate at least one more minor-league start is in order, but that is subject to change.
In addition, righthander Dave Johnson is ready to begin a rehabilitation assignment, meaning the Orioles have to prepare for a fourth move. Jeff McKnight and Glenn Davis are the only two on the disabled list not close to returning at this point.
"I've got some ideas," said Oates. "I've talked to the coaches a lot the last few days and I've got to talk to Roland.
"We've got to discuss moves we have to make -- the ones we want to make and the ones we don't want to make. We've got to figure out what we want to do with these guys."
With three, possibly four, players close to returning to the active list, the same number are sitting on the fence. "I'm sure some of these guys who aren't going good are wondering," said Oates.
"I spent 10 years [in the big leagues] as a fringe player and every time a move was going to be made, I stayed away from the manager's office. Not that it was going to change anything -- but maybe I might get a couple of extra minutes."
When the Orioles get around to making serious inroads on their present roster, it is almost certain that Juan Bell's name will come up. The 23-year-old infielder does not have any options left and cannot be sent to the minor leagues without clearing waivers.
The front office was convinced during spring training that three or four teams would claim Bell and they were unwilling to gamble losing a player they consider to have major-league potential for nothing more than the waiver price. There is still a reluctance to take the chance, along with a realization that Bell is not able to progress as a player in the role he's playing.
With a .154 average, it would seem that losing Bell is less of a
gamble now than it was three months ago. There is no question that he and the club would be better off if he was out playing every day, but that won't happen unless the Orioles are willing to take an irrevocable risk by putting him on waivers.
When McDonald returns that most likely means that a starting pitcher will have to depart. Roy Smith was the most recent addition to the rotation and has struggled in his last three starts, and Jose Mesa, tonight's starter against the Red Sox, hasn't won a game in six weeks.
Johnson's return, which won't take place until after the All-Star break, will require yet another move. At the moment it doesn't figure that the Orioles will be able to resolve their roster problems with any trades, but that is always subject to change. The Orioles would listen to trade proposals for either Worthington or Bell, but almost certainly can't get what they consider equal value at the moment.
Do the Orioles risk losing Bell or waivers in an effort to get him playing time in the minor leagues? Do they solve the third base fTC problem by leaving Worthington at Rochester? Or recreate the problem they had coming out of spring training by putting him on the roster with Gomez?
All of these questions won't be answered before the weekend is over, but the groundwork for the future of the club's makeup will be laid. The midway point of the season is rapidly approaching, and while it is too early to talk about the future beyond this year, that will have to be taken into consideration.