Mills quickly sinks teeth into Regan's pet pitch


SARASOTA, Fla. -- Somebody asked Alan Mills, who yesterday became the first Orioles player to appear in camp, if he had thought the strike ever would end.

"Have you seen that All Sport commercial with Shaq?" Mills said of the drink endorsed by Orlando Magic center Shaquille O'Neal. "I was thinking [during the strike] that's how people would think back on baseball. 'Remember that game, baseball, they used to play with bats and balls and they ran around the bases . . . ?' "

Mills was grinning broadly, sweating through his jersey after throwing for Orioles manager Phil Regan and the coaching staff for 15 minutes. He was clearly happy to be back. "It's great to be wearing this uniform again," he said.

And Regan seems excited the right-hander is here. Regan has been talking all spring about wanting to get Mills in camp and teach him a sinker that runs in on right-handed hitters. Mills discussed the sinker with Regan when he stopped here briefly in February, and apparently has taken the suggestion to heart.

Mills showed a good sinker, and Regan said he can improve even more as soon as he adjusts his grip on the baseball. Mills throws his sinker without touching the seams; Regan wants Mills to hold the ball with two fingers touching the seams.

"I thought he threw really well," said Regan. "He's got a really live arm."

Regan said he was extremely impressed with Mills' condition.

"Mills was ready to go," Regan said. "He's obviously been throwing on his own. In a normal year, you're not going to see somebody throw like that on the first day of camp.

"I expect everybody will come here in pretty good shape. . . . You'll know right away if they aren't."

Mills was the first of five Orioles to report yesterday. The others were left-hander Arthur Rhodes, reliever Brad Pennington, outfielder Jack Voigt and third baseman Jeff Manto.

The number of players in camp is expected to increase exponentially today -- the first official day, under the terms of the cease-fire between players and owners, for those wishing to report voluntarily.

Mills said he arrived earlier than the union would've preferred. "I didn't really see that it would make that big a difference."

Bichette a possibility?

The Orioles have little chance of signing free-agent outfielder Larry Walker because the Colorado Rockies are preparing a major bid: four or five years at $5 million per year, which would appear to blow the Orioles out of contention. The Orioles are interested in signing Walker for one or two years, at about $3 million per year.

If Walker signs with the Rockies, however, that could create, in a roundabout way, another opportunity for the Orioles. Colorado general manager Bob Gebhard called Dante Bichette yesterday and told him to stay home, because the Rockies are deciding whether to tender a contract to the right fielder, who is eligible for arbitration.

Bichette, 31, hit .304 with 27 homers and 95 RBIs for the Rockies last year, and is more likely to fall into that $3 million-per-year range.

Another player who may not be tendered a contract is Texas Rangers left-hander Kenny Rogers, 11-8 with a 4.46 ERA last year. Regan said early in spring that he really liked Rogers, who happens to be a good friend of Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.

Sorry, no vacancy

Overheard as Manto jogged to the left side of the infield to field grounders:

Manto, smiling: "You guys got a shortstop, right?"

Hitting coach Lee May: "Yeah, we're working with one."

The shortstop in training, Cal Ripken, is expected to arrive today.

Et cetera

Rosters will be expanded by three until May 15, which would seem to improve the chances that the Orioles would keep Rule V draftee Russell Brock, plucked out of the Oakland Athletics' organization for $50,000. The Orioles have to keep Brock, a 25-year-old right-hander who was 8-11 with a 3.47 ERA in the minors last year, the entire season or offer him back to the Athletics for $25,000. . . . After taking batting practice and fielding grounders, Manto crouched behind home plate and made some throws to second and third. Manto, attempting to win a job as a utility man, called Regan over the weekend and reminded him that he could catch, as well as play the infield.

The Orioles are expected to announce the signing of catcher Chris Hoiles to a five-year contract after today's workout. . . . Orioles vice chairman Joe Foss said he has been in contact with the American League office and expects a decision on the team's schedule today or tomorrow. . . . Mills was clean-shaven, other than a couple of Brady Anderson-type sideburns. Regan said that beyond tidy mustaches, no facial hair will be allowed.

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