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Pitchers get into the swing of spring Conditioning game lets Ripken Sr. ump


SARASOTA, Fla. -- For the only time in spring training other than exhibition games in National League camps, Orioles pitchers got to swing bats yesterday.

In a game that only vaguely resembled the real thing (for instance, first base is eliminated), 11 pitchers worked the equivalent of two innings apiece. The game is mostly a throwing and running conditioning program that allows pitchers to throw to hitters for the first time.

One highlight of the game was Cal Ripken Sr., who has been known to question umpires on occasion, calling balls and strikes -- from the third-base coaching box.

"Senior [Ripken] finally proved what he's been telling me for the last 25 years -- that he can call pitches from the third-base box," manager John Oates said.

Old-time collusion?

Mike Flanagan was among the pitchers who threw in yesterday's game. The only hit allowed by the left-hander was a "triple" by Rick Dempsey, who had two hits in the game.

There were no immediate claims of collusion after Dempsey, 42, connected against Flanagan, 40. Dempsey is attempting to make the teamas a non-roster invitee to spring training, just as Flanagan, his former and potential future teammate, did last year.

Talking contract with Ben

General manager Roland Hemond and assistant Doug Melvin had a contract discussion yesterday with Scott Boras, the agent who represents Ben McDonald.

The right-hander is one of 14 players who are still unsigned (rookie pitcher Richie Lewis agreed to terms yesterday). "I think they had talked only one time [before yesterday]," McDonald said.

After he was drafted in 1989, negotiations consumed most of the summer before McDonald got a three-year deal worth close to $1 million. McDonald will be eligible for arbitration after this season, but has no real negotiating power this time around.

"We should have an idea by the end of the week," Melvin said.

Teams have until March 11 to reach agreements, after which they have the right to renew contracts at any salary they desire -- provided it is no less than a 20 percent reduction from the previous year.

Rain, rain go away

The after-effects of two days of hard rain played havoc with the Orioles' schedule yesterday. After reporting early for uniform fittings, the players had three hours off, then returned for a 1 p.m. workout.

That meant almost nine hours on the field for Cal Ripken, Sr., who supervised the ground crew. Ripken and Oates arrived at the park at 7 a.m., which is their normal arrival time to set up the day's program.

"We couldn't have done anything at 10 a.m.," Oates said. "There was standing water on the infield grass. But we were able to get our work in, which was important after missing some [Tuesday]."

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