Healthy team puts spring in Oates' step
Club is deepest in his tenure
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Manager Johnny Oates could find little to complain about as the Orioles broke camp in Florida yesterday. The club he brings back to Baltimore for today's exhibition game at Camden Yards is healthier and deeper than any of the other Orioles teams he has been associated with since he joined the organization in 1988.
"That's probably the best part of spring," he said before yesterday's 10-9 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. "With three days to go, you don't want to count your chickens before they're hatched, but as we stand, we're about as healthy as we could expect."
There were only a handful of minor injuries to rostered personnel. Outfielder Luis Mercedes suffered a sprained ankle in early March, but probably will be in the starting lineup on Opening Day. No. 1 draft choice Jeffrey Hammonds was in and out of the exhibition lineup with a sore hamstring, but he still played enough to make a good impression.
Oates also is pleased with the depth the club left behind in minor-league camp. That a Brad Pennington could come up short of the major-league roster without giving up a run in spring is an indication that the team's player developmental system is working.
"I think a lot of young players took a step forward," Oates said. "I've been with the organization since 1988, and there is no doubt in my mind that we sent more talent out than in any of those other years. I feel like we could call up as many as eight guys and not miss a beat."
However, Oates was not happy with what he saw during the Orioles' final Florida exhibition.
"We made more mistakes [yesterday] than we did the rest of the spring combined," he said.
The Orioles scored three runs off Jack Morris in the first three innings, three more off Ken Dayley in the sixth and another three on Sherman Obando's home run in the ninth off minor-league pitcher Tim Brown.
However, the Blue Jays roughed up Fernando Valenzuela for five runs in three innings, and Jim Poole allowed a three-run, game-winning home run to Turner Ward after Obando had given the Orioles the lead. The Texas Rangers announced that former Orioles left-hander Craig Lefferts will be their Opening Day starter Monday, which means that Oates will go with a largely right-handed lineup that ++ probably will include Mercedes in right field.
Right-hander Kevin Brown originally was expected to make the Opening Day start for the Rangers, but his spring activity has been limited by a rib-cage injury. The club probably would have liked to go with Nolan Ryan instead, but had committed to pitching him in an appearance against the Houston Astros this weekend.
Oates an All-Star
Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said yesterday that he will invite Oates to be on the All-Star coaching staff this year.
Gaston, who is the All-Star manager because his club won the 1992 American League pennant, told reporters from Toronto that Oates should be on the staff because he is the manager of the host club. Gaston also said he would invite Oakland Athletics manager Tony La Russa, because La Russa had extended him that courtesy on several occasions.
Orioles reacquire Schullstrom
The Orioles claimed pitcher Erik Schullstrom on waivers from the San Diego Padres. Schullstrom was the Orioles prospect who was traded along with Ricky Gutierrez for Lefferts last August.
"They [the Padres] had gotten up to their 40-man limit," general manager Roland Hemond said. "We hated to part with him, so we're delighted to have him back."
Davis just misses slam
First baseman Glenn Davis almost closed out his Grapefruit League season with a big bang. His first-inning line drive off Toronto Blue Jays starter Jack Morris came within a foot of clearing the left-field fence for a grand slam. The ball stayed in play, however, and Davis had to settle for a two-run double.
Davis appeared in 12 of the Orioles' 25 exhibition games in Florida, batting .310 with one home run and six RBI. He has not had any physical complaints, which leads Oates to believe that he'll be able to play regularly at first base this year.
"He has done his work this spring," Oates said. "He's strong. I have no reason to think that he won't be ready to play."
The Orioles are trying to make arrangements to play an exhibition game at Oriole Park if either of the two scheduled games this weekend has to be postponed because of inclement weather. Club officials have been negotiating with the Pittsburgh Pirates to remain in the area, but have not completed a contingency plan.
An intra-organizational game involving minor-league players might have been an attractive alternative, but the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings are scheduled to play against the Pirates' Single-A club in Albany, Ga., on Sunday.
If today's game is rained out, the club will not allow it to affect the pitching schedule. Starting pitcher Mike Mussina would pitch a simulated game indoors at Camden Yards to get his work in and stay on schedule for his first regular-season start against the Texas Rangers on Wednesday.
Today is National Awareness Day for the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Alliance, and fans attending today's exhibition game will be able to take part. Using the theme that the need for SIDS research is "as plain as the nose on your face," organizers will pass out red noses to fans as they enter the game.
'Meet the Keys' canceled
The Bowie Baysox will play the Frederick Keys in a 1 p.m. exhibition on Wednesday at Memorial Stadium, forcing the cancellation of the annual "Meet the Keys Day" in Frederick, Keys officials said. For the past five years, the team has arranged the day before Opening Day as an opportunity for fans to meet the Keys players. The Keys open Thursday at home against the Prince William Cannons. Keys general manager Larry Martin said the team hopes to plan a "Meet the Keys" event during the summer.