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ORIOLES PROFILES

THE BALTIMORE SUN

24 MATT NOKES

* His role: Backup catcher to Chris Hoiles, although that could be of secondary importance to contribution as a left-handed pinch hitter and fill-in for Harold Baines. Manager Phil Regan says Nokes has been much better defensively than he expected.

* What '95 means to him: Nokes is at the point in his career where he'll probably go year-to-year with his contracts, but a good year for the Orioles could earn him a two-year deal.

* X-factor: An injury to Hoiles would elevate Nokes into the role of everyday catcher, although his below-average throwing ability would prompt the Orioles to promote a catcher from Triple-A or even look to deal for another catcher.

* Statistically speaking: Nokes is had a fantastic year hitting against left-handers last year, going 5-for-10 with a homer. He had some problems, however, hitting with runners in scoring position, batting .208.

* Age: 31. * Height: 6-1. * Weight: 210. * Bats: Left. * Throws: Right.

* His role: He's the best hitter in the Orioles' attack, combining average and power. Because they don't have an overwhelming offense, like the Yankees, the Orioles need his run production. Turned out to be a much better fielder than anyone expected, ranking fifth in fielding percentage among major-league regulars at first base.

* What '95 means to him: In the second year of a long-term contract, he would solidify his standing among the game's top offensive players with a big year. With a good year, could push his .298 lifetime average over .300.

* X-factor: The success of the hitters around him. If the Orioles' fluid lineup situation at the top of the order doesn't solidify, there won't be many runners to drive in, and if Cal Ripken and Harold Baines have problems, Palmeiro will see far fewer pitches to hit.

* Statistically speaking: Palmeiro thrived in Camden Yards last season, hitting 40 points higher at home (.340) than on the road (.300). He hit far better against left-handers (.352, with a homer every 14.5 at-bats) than right-handers (.302).

* Age: 30. * Height: 6-0. * Weight: 188. * Bats: Left. * Throws: Left.

* His role: Middle relief, for now. His importance to the club could increase if he shows he can pitch in and at the edges of the strike zone more consistently.

* What '95 means to him: He's got a new manager, a new chance. The Orioles want to rely on him. Now, he just has to justify their faith.

* X-factor: If Pennington struggles so badly as to jeopardize his major-league job, the Orioles won't have any choice but to trade him. Pennington is out of options and cannot be sent back to the minors without being exposed to waivers, and other teams would be glad to take a shot at a left-hander who throws hard.

* Statistically speaking: Pennington will be asked to pitch to left-handers, who batted .875 against him last year -- 7-for-8.

* Age: 26. * Height: 6-6. * Weight: 215. * Bats: Left. * Throws: Left.

* His role: The Orioles' No. 5 starter.

* What '95 means to him: An important year for the 25-year-old left-hander. For years, stardom has been projected for him, and, at the end of last season, he seemed to be turning the corner. Rhodes said that, during the strike, he wondered if he could rediscover that touch once play resumed. Apparently, he has.

* X-factor: As always, his control. Rhodes has 140 walks in 268 2/3 innings in the majors, but Phil Regan says the wildness can be traced to a mechanical flaw.

* Statistically speaking: For whatever reason, he's been terrible pitching at home during his career. He has a lifetime ERA of 6.16 at home, compared with 5.01 on the road.

* Age: 25. * Height: 6-2. * Weight: 206. * Bats: Left. * Throws: Left.

* His role: Every day, the architect of the Orioles defense. He could be the most critical player in the offensive attack, as well. If he hits, then opponents much pitch to No. 3 hitter Rafael Palmeiro. If Ripken struggles -- and remember, he hit .251 and .257 in 1992 and '93 -- Palmeiro can be pitched around and the middle of the order becomes suspect.

* What '95 means to him: This is the year when Ripken could ensure his status as a baseball legend by breaking Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games.

* X-factor: If Ripken hits, he may relax and enjoy the media attention that will focus on him all year. If he struggles at the plate, the army of reporters could become a tremendous distraction.

* Statistically speaking: Ripken excelled with runners in scoring position last year, batting .364 with five homers, 61 RBIs and 12 strikeouts in 121 at-bats in that situation.

* Age: 34. * Height: 6-4. * Weight: 220. * Bats: Right. * Throws: Right.

* His role: He'll man center, perhaps splitting time with Damon Buford. He won't be asked to be the big stick in the Orioles lineup, as he was in Pittsburgh last year. Van Slyke likely will hit down in the order, sixth or seventh or eighth, and that could help him relax.

* What '95 means to him: A chance to revitalize his career. If he has a good season, Van Slyke could be in line for one last multi-year contract.

* X-factor: His health. In recent years, he's had back problems, although the Orioles are hoping those were caused by playing every day on Pittsburgh's artificial surface. As manager Phil Regan has said, if he's healthy, Van Slyke can be a very productive player.

* Statistically speaking: Van Slyke has been a consistent run producer during his career, driving in more than 80 runs four times. He's batted .290 with runners in scoring position over the past five years.

* Age: 34. * Height: 6-2. * Weight: 198. * Bats: Left. * Throws: Right.

* His role: Just about anything. He can play any of the outfield spots, first and third base, pinch run. Last year, he was the Orioles' fourth outfielder, the first guy to fill in when someone else was hurt or slumping. This year, with the addition of Andy Van Slyke and Kevin Bass, he'll be the fifth or sixth outfielder.

* What '95 means to him: Every manager has one or two players he likes as role players, the 24th or 25th man. For many years, Earl Weaver had Merv Rettenmund. Sparky Anderson liked Dave Bergman. Johnny Oates liked and used Voigt. Time will tell if Voigt can win over Phil Regan.

* X-factor: On May 15, the rosters will be reduced to 25, and Voigt would figure to be one of those on the bubble. But injuries could change everything.

* Statistically speaking: He has a .363 on-base average in 124 major-league games.

* Age: 28. * Height: 6-1. * Weight: 175. * Bats: Right. * Throws: Right.

* His role: He's a long reliever. If somebody bombs early, he'll be one of the first into the game. If the game is one-sided in the late innings, he may be asked to pitch an inning or two to save rTC normal late-inning relievers Doug Jones, Armando Benitez, Alan Mills and Jesse Orosco.

* What '95 means to him: A second chance. Last year, Oquist was roughed up as a starter. He did do better as a reliever, although he was returned to Triple-A.

* X-factor: Oquist is out of options, which means the Orioles soon must decide whether he's a part of their long-term plans. He cannot be sent down to the minors without being passed through waivers. When the Orioles reduce their roster from 28 to 25 on May 15, he'll likely be one of those considered for demotion.

* Statistically speaking: Has won at least nine games four of the past five years.

* Age: 26. * Height: 6-2. * Weight: 170. * Bats: Right. * Throws: Right.

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