Hammonds cleared to begin testing knee in drills


SARASOTA, Fla. -- Right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds is as curious as everybody else. Like Orioles fans, he wants to know whether his surgically reconstructed right knee will hold up under the stress of playing every day.

"I can practice making cuts," said Hammonds, who arrived at camp yesterday for his first workout of the spring. "But when I do that, I know which way I'm going to go. . . . I won't really know how my knee is going to do until I play, because I can't plan those moves."

Hammonds' anterior cruciate ligament was rebuilt on Oct. 11. The knee was examined by Orioles team doctor Michael Jacobs on Thursday and he was cleared to practice, without limitation. Hammonds took batting practice, ran through regular drills. Now he wonders: Can the knee take the stress?

"You guys will see the answers soon enough," he said.

Hammonds said he is confident, however, that he'll be on the field when the Orioles begin the season in Kansas City on April 26. "I came in thinking I could be ready by Opening Day," he said, "and I'm confident of that. . . . I really feel I can be ready to help this ballclub."

If he's on the field and healthy, that's likely. Hammonds batted .296 in 68 games last year, with 45 runs and 31 RBIs.

Contract contacts

As expected, the Orioles offered contracts to their five arbitration-eligible players yesterday -- pitchers Ben McDonald, Mike Mussina and Alan Mills, third baseman Leo Gomez and second baseman Bret Barberie.

McDonald said that months ago, his agent told him that the Orioles raised the possibility of signing him to a long-term contract. "I haven't heard a lot about that since," said McDonald. "I'd love to stay in Baltimore and play here the rest of my career. . . . I think Mr. Angelos [Orioles owner Peter Angelos] is very fair to the players."

Talking defense

Regan met for about 20 minutes with shortstop Cal Ripken, going over various infield techniques. "We had put in some new [defensive] plays," Regan said, "and he had some questions about where he was going to go. It was just baseball talk."

Later, Regan and infield coach Chuck Cottier worked with Barberie on turning the pivot.

Inside pitch

Before he knew anything about the possible signings of Kevin Brown and Doug Jones last night, McDonald said he was concerned about the makeup of the Orioles' bullpen.

"I don't doubt that [Armando] Benitez can do the job," McDonald said, "but what concerns me is the experience factor. . . . There's still some time for some moves to be made. I guess we'll just wait and see what happens."

General manager Roland Hemond addressed the team for about 10 minutes yesterday morning, at the outset of the first mandatory workout of spring training, and Regan followed.

"He [Regan] talked about how he wanted us to be aggressive," said McDonald. "Even the pitchers. . . He talked about wanting us to pitch inside."

Around the horn

The four Orioles from the Dominican Republic -- Benitez, Cesar Devarez, William Percibal and Manny Alexander -- are expected to arrive today. Left fielder Brady Anderson, pitcher Mike Oquist, Hammonds, and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro arrived yesterday, bring the total number of players in camp to 34. . . . Former Orioles outfielder Mike Devereaux is close to signing with the Chicago White Sox. . . . Left fielder Brady Anderson, on the weight-loss drink that teammate Sid Fernandez has been consuming: "That's what I take to gain weight. That's why it didn't work." . . . After addressing their pitching problems today, the Orioles will renew their search for an outfielder. Over the winter, they talked with free-agent outfielder Andy Van Slyke, a former All-Star with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he figures to be at the top of their list again. A club source indicated that the Orioles would not pursue Brett Butler, an outfielder cut by the Los Angeles Dodgers earlier this week.

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