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Former Oriole Lefferts may start opener here


ST PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Because the stress fracture in Kevi Brown's rib cage shows little sign of improvement, it appears more likely that Craig Lefferts will be the Texas Rangers' Opening Day pitcher against the Orioles at Camden Yards, the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram reported today.

"When he did it, it was 50-50 whether he would pitch Opening Day," trainer Danny Wheat said. "I don't know if the odds have increased any. It hasn't shown any improvement, very little if any."

Manager Kevin Kennedy said: "I'm concerned, but I've always been concerned. I'm planning for the worst, which is he won't be ready for Opening Day."

Lefferts, 35, a left-hander, pitched five games for the Orioles last season after being acquired from the San Diego Padres on Aug. 31. He was granted free agency in November and signed with Texas in January.

McDonald's arm lively

Ben McDonald ran his spring training record to 3-1 yesterday, giving up six hits and one run in six innings as the Orioles beat the Cincinnati Reds, 4-2.

"I had a little bit of a normal spring training dead arm," said McDonald. "No pain, or anything like that, just the routine tired arm.

"I had it about this time last year, and again just before the All-Star break," said McDonald. "Other than those two times, everything was fine."

The big right-hander has been virtually overlooked this spring because he's been pitching on the same day as Fernando Valenzuela. He said he is satisfied with the way his spring has gone, but still needs a little more time to get ready.

"My curveball has a way to go yet, and so does the location of my fastball," said McDonald. "But overall, I'm pleased. I've got two more starts to get fine-tuned."

Home home run

Glenn Davis hit his first home run, and the first the Orioles have hit in a home spring training game, to provide half the offense yesterday.

The Orioles had only five hits against three Reds pitchers. Harold Reynolds drove in the third run with a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning and Sherman Obando drove in the fourth with a single.

The win broke a three-game losing streak for the Orioles (10-7).

Buford to Rochester

After the game yesterday, the Orioles announced that outfielder Damon Buford had been optioned to the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings.

The son of ex-Oriole Don Buford, currently managing Double-A Bowie, Buford had played in all 17 preseason games. He hit only .095 (2-for-21), but impressed manager Johnny Oates with his speed and defensive ability in the outfield.

The Orioles now have 35 players remaining in camp, including five non-roster invitees.

Mercedes to Padres?

Outfielder Luis Mercedes is expected to be traded before the Oriolesbreak camp next week, and the team most likely to acquire him appears to be the Padres.

The Padres are in need of outfield help and the presence of former Orioles executive John Barr in the Padres organization may have helped point them toward Mercedes, who no longer appears to be in the hunt for the right-field job with the Orioles.

The two clubs are known to be involved in talks about Mercedes, but a source said that the other half of the deal has yet to be determined. The Padres are trying to move catching prospect Tom Lampkin -- who is out of options -- but he would only complicate an already complicated Orioles catching situation.

Window closes on Flanagan

Left-hander Mike Flanagan still hopes his sore shoulder will heal sufficiently to allow him to continue his baseball career, but the window of opportunity to make the Orioles' Opening Day roster has closed.

"He can't make the ballclub Opening Day," manager Johnny Oates said yesterday.

That might seem like a blunt assessment of the situation, but it was not a surprising one. Flanagan has pitched only one inning during the first three weeks of the exhibition season, and he still isn't available to pitch. But he apparently has received assurances from general manager Roland Hemond that the club will be patient while he works his way back into shape.

"He told me, 'Don't worry. Get your shoulder well and we'll go from there,' " Flanagan said. "That relieved a lot of pressure. I was thinking of going out there and pitching through it just to see if I could do it."

Three pitchers called up

The Orioles have called up three pitchers from the minor-league camp in Sarasota to stand in reserve for a few days. The club added left-hander Wayne Edwards and right-handers Tim Drummond and Dave Miller.

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