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Fernando's competitors more curious than worried


SARASOTA, Fla. -- Fernando Valenzuela's invitation to spring training by the Orioles has evoked some skepticism, but those most affected by the move seem mostly curious.

Manager Johnny Oates says he is open-minded and that Valenzuela's arrival will have no immediate impact on others contending for the No. 5 slot in the club's starting rotation. And most of them seem more interested in meeting Valenzuela than competing with him.

"You won't hear me saying anything," said non-roster left-hander Steve Searcy. "I'm going to get him to sign a ball, to go with about 70 others in my collection."

Searcy came to camp as a distinct outsider in a bid to win a starting job, but John O'Donoghue is considered a strong possibility. "I'm just glad to get a chance to meet him," said O'Donoghue, 23.

"I'll just try to pick up anything I can from him," he said. "That's what I'm trying to do with other veterans, like [Mike] Flanagan and [Rick] Sutcliffe.

"I can't be disappointed," O'Donoghue said when asked how he reacted to the news of Valenzuela's signing. "All I can do is go out and pitch the best that I can. If it's good enough to pitch in the big leagues, then I'll be there.

"They [the Orioles] have been fair with me, moving me up every year," said O'Donoghue. "I'll just watch him and try to learn some things that will help me."

Anthony Telford, one of the leading candidates for the fifth spot in the rotation, dismissed Valenzuela's presence as a factor in his case.

"I don't care," he said when asked for a reaction.

"It doesn't bother me. The way I look at it, I figure I'll get a better chance with him coming in than I would if they went out and gave somebody a million dollars."

Mark Williamson, another strong contender, also said Valenzuela's presence would have little impact.

"If he can still pitch . . . you can never have too many arms," the right-hander said after throwing batting practice for the first time yesterday.

"I'm just trying to make the team -- if it works out, it works out," said Williamson. "I just want to show people that I'm healthy.

"This year, I'm not going to worry about things over which I have no control. And that [Valenzuela's signing] is something I can't -- control."

Mike Cook, a non-roster invitee, who was named to Baseball America's All-Winter League team (Valenzuela was not), expressed no concern over another candidate.

"I only saw him pitch two innings on television," said Cook, who played for Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Series. His team never faced Valenzuela. "I don't have any reaction," said Cook, 29. "If you pitch good, you're going to pitch."

Told that he apparently had opened the eyes of Oates, who has given Cook good early reviews, Cook said: "Good -- I hope they stay open."

Oates said he was not surprised by the reaction of the other pitchers. "That's the way it's supposed to be," he said.

Although saying that Valenzuela, 32, would cut into somebody's time eventually, Oates indicated those in competition for the No. 5 starter's spot would be the least affected.

"Somewhere along the line, somebody's going to have to give up some innings," said Oates. "But it could be that we'll use somebody like Mike Mussina or Sutcliffe in some 'B' games, especially early.

"The guys we have to make a decision on we'll use in 'A' games," said Oates. "And that includes Fernando. Some of the others, we can let them get their work in 'B' games until we get near the start of the season."

The addition of Valenzuela gives the Orioles 21 pitchers in camp. Oates said he will wait until he talks to Valenzuela and sees him throw before deciding on whether the pitcher will perform in one of the two intrasquad games scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.

Most of the people in camp, players and uniformed staff alike, seemed surprised by Saturday's announcement. Nobody voiced any displeasure, but some reacted as though Valenzuela was little more than a gimmick to spice up spring training, as Jim Palmer did two years ago.

But Oates allowed himself to daydream a little after yesterday's workout.

"I'm going to look at him with a completely open mind," said the manager. "Wouldn't it be nice, though, if he came in out of the woodwork and did for us this year what Sutcliffe did last year?"

Oates, however, didn't draw many similarities between the two. "I knew Rick personally," he said. "I know Fernando only by reputation. There's a difference.

"Our goal is to send him out there often enough to make a decision," said Oates, refusing to put a timetable on the experiment. "If he's good enough, I want to see him enough to evaluate him.

"Suppose everybody else passed on him, and all he had to do was get his arm strength back? If his strength is back and he shows he can get hitters out -- then I want him pitching for the Baltimore Orioles, not Milwaukee, New York or some other club," said Oates.

He indicated that whoever wins the fifth spot won't face high expectations.

"If he [Valenzuela] can be a .500 pitcher and the others do what they're projected to do, then we could have five guys capable of 12-15 wins," said Oates.

That may be unrealistic. But that's what spring training is for -- and why Fernando Valenzuela is here.

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