LAKELAND, Fla. -- The weather was awful again yesterday, but the spring of 1993 continues to be a feel-good experience for the Orioles.
The heavy rain that fell on Joker Marchant Stadium threatened to wash away their game with the Detroit Tigers and force manager Johnny Oates to juggle his starting rotation for the second time in five days.
The hazardous playing conditions could have posed big problems for first baseman Glenn Davis, who is working his way back into a normal routine, and Luis Mercedes, who was back in the lineup for the first time since he sprained his ankle nine days ago.
It could have been an entirely negative experience, but the Orioles braved a lengthy rain delay to pound the Tigers, 14-1, and give several members of the starting lineup a major ego boost.
Rick Sutcliffe wasn't having any trouble with his confidence, but he didn't need another day off. He was forced out of the rotation on Saturday by the severe thunderstorms that turned much of Florida into a disaster area. This time, the rain held off until he had worked 3 2/3 scoreless innings to earn his first exhibition victory.
"The most important thing was getting Sutcliffe his work," Oates said. "The worst thing that could have happened was if it had rained in the first inning. Then we would have lost him for today and tomorrow at least because he already would have been warmed up. He got his work in and he'll be ready to go five innings the next time out."
Tigers manager Sparky Anderson was not so happy to see the weather cooperate. His beleaguered pitching staff threw batting practice to the Orioles in the early innings and would have had 11 earned runs forgiven if the fourth-inning rain delay had led to a postponement. Instead, the Orioles resumed the assault and raised the team's spring batting average from .243 to .271 with the 22-hit performance.
Davis played six innings on the wet field and had another good day at the plate, with two hits in four at-bats. He raised his exhibition average to .363 with a single and a double -- his first extra-base hit of the spring.
Mercedes also braved the elements to test his sore right ankle. jTC He played the entire game in right field and turned in a 2-for-6 performance.
It was a good time to get back in action. The only position in the Orioles lineup that is unspoken for is right field, and there are promising candidates all over the place.
Outfielder Jack Voigt broke out of a 1-for-14 slump with a four-hit performance that also included three runs and two RBI. He was once thought to be a candidate for a utility role, but Oates said again yesterday he is very much a part of the right-field competition.
"He wasn't hurting even before today," Oates said. "He has played well for me. He does a lot of things right. We're not surprised. A lot of our minor-league people have seen him. That's why he's a part of the big-league roster."
Oates isn't ready to handicap right field just yet. The leading candidates when spring training began were Mercedes and Chito Martinez. Voigt, Rule V draftee Sherman Obando and first-round draft choice Jeffrey Hammonds also are under consideration.
"I've got some ideas," Oates said, "but nothing is written in cement. My ideas have changed three or four times in spring training. One day, you see a guy and think he really fits the puzzle. Then you look at somebody else and you think, 'Whoa, that guy really brings something to the ballpark, too.' We haven't eliminated anyone."
The big all-around offensive performance did little to shake out the catching situation either. Mark Parent played most of the game and had two hits in four at-bats. He also threw out a runner on the bases. Fellow backup candidate Jeff Tackett played the last three innings and singled home a run in his only at-bat.