Released Williamson to make early free-agent pitch BASEBALL

Relief pitcher Mark Williamson became an unrestricted free agent yesterday, when the Orioles moved him off the 40-man roster to make room for outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds.

It was largely a paper move. Hammonds had to be brought back from the disabled list and Williamson would have become a free agent after the World Series anyway, but it might work to the veteran reliever's advantage in the free-agent market.


Williamson had the option of accepting his release or allowing the club to outright him off the roster. He chose to be set free, which will give him a two-week jump on the rest of the players eligible to become free agents.

"They cleared a spot on the roster, and I knew I was going to be a free agent anyway," said Williamson, who was 7-5 with a 4.91 ERA last year. "It doesn't bother me. In a way, it was beneficial for both parties."


The move makes Williamson more marketable, because no draft-choice compensation will be required if another team signs him this winter, but his 1993 numbers won't help. He ranked among the American League leaders in relief wins, but opponents hit .304 against him with a .418 slugging percentage.

It is the second time in 11 months that Williamson has been released by the Orioles. He was one of five veteran players who were not tendered contracts by the Dec. 20 deadline last winter, but he re-signed with the club at a reduced salary.

Williamson arrived in the Orioles organization with catcher Terry Kennedy in the October 1986 trade that sent Storm Davis to the San Diego Padres. He struggled to find his niche for a couple of years, but emerged as one of the top middlemen in the American League in 1989. In 1989 and '90, he was a combined 18-7 with a 2.62 ERA, but injuries cost him part of the 1991 season and almost all of '92.

He became so established in Baltimore that he recently sold his California home and moved his family to Maryland year-round. Williamson said yesterday that he may stay in the area even if he ends up pitching somewhere else.

There is nothing to stop the Orioles from inviting him back again next spring, but that seems less likely than a year ago. Williamson would not say how he would react if such an offer were made.

"I don't know what's going to happen," Williamson said. "My wife tells me you should never say never."

If he does not return, it will be a double loss for the Orioles. While xTC Williamson has been one of the workhorses of the Orioles bullpen for the past six years, his wife, Lori, has been active in the club's charitable endeavors.

"Who knows?" he said. "Maybe they'll re-sign Lori for community services, and I'll go elsewhere."


No feeler on Lopes

Speculation remains strong that Orioles coach Davey Lopes will be the top candidate to fill the vacant managerial position in Houston, but the Astros have made no attempt to get permission from the Orioles to talk to him.

Baseball rules require that the Astros contact the Orioles before negotiating with Lopes, but general manager Roland Hemond said he has not heard from them.

Lopes, meanwhile, continues to manage the Tucson Javelinas of the Arizona Fall League, a team that includes players and coaches from the Astros organization as well as several Orioles players.