O's Johnson will fine-tune, not overhaul New manager eyes closer, 2nd baseman, but likes 'talent pool'; 3-4-5 hitters are 'potent'; Talks up free agents Biggio, Gant, Myers


The Orioles will be in the market for a second baseman, a heavy-hitting outfielder and a closer this off-season, and they may need a couple of starting pitchers. But new manager Davey Johnson said yesterday he likes the core of players he is inheriting.

"I believe the talent pool is as good or better than any I've had," said Johnson, who will have strong input in the makeup of the roster. "We've probably got a much more potent 3-4-5 [hitters in the lineup] than I had in Cincinnati. The pitching staff has the potential to be as good as any I've had, with Mike Mussina.

"I'm excited. I wish this season started tomorrow."

Johnson, hired to replace Phil Regan yesterday, has watched the Orioles on television over the past few years, studied box scores and talked with others about the club, including Jim Palmer. Johnson said it's a little early to talk in specifics about the team needs, but he did offer some observations:

* Asked which areas of the club needed an upgrade, Johnson talked about the bullpen, specifically mentioning Doug Jones; the Orioles hold a $1.3 million option on Jones for 1996 that must be exercised by the end of the week.

"We could probably use a more reliable closer," Johnson said. "Jones did OK. I like guys who blow hitters away."

Translated: Johnson wants a closer who throws hard. Jones' best pitch is a changeup.

* Johnson talked about potential free agents, such as Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio. "He's hard-nosed," Johnson said. "He's a man after my own heart. He plays hurt, he's great on the club. He'd look great in an Oriole uniform."

Johnson likes left fielder Ron Gant, who took advantage of a hitter's park in Cincinnati last season. "He hits a lot of balls in the air," Johnson said. "This [Camden Yards] is a home run park."

* Randy Myers, the closer with the Cubs the past three years and a free agent this fall, used to pitch for Johnson in New York. "I like Randy," said Johnson. "He would look good in an Orioles uniform, too."

* Johnson is not sure whether Bobby Bonilla will play third base -- as former manager Phil Regan planned -- or in the outfield. "He's no Gold Glover wherever you put him," Johnson said. "He does an adequate job wherever he is. But you've got to leave him somewhere. New York moved him around; he played some at third, in right, in left. He needs to be in one spot. It could be third, it could be in right field."

* Assuming Johnson is with the Orioles for the full three years on his contract, there is a good chance he will be the manager who turns in the lineup card that doesn't include Cal Ripken's name.

"Everybody needs a day off once in a while," Johnson said. "What he's doing is unbelievable to me, mind-boggling. Maybe what he needs to do is, at some point in time, when he feels good, is plan a holiday, rather than let an injury take him out. I think that would be good for him. I don't see it happening any time soon.

"Any time you can write someone of his caliber in the lineup, that's fine with me, less worries. I do think at some point he needs to address that. We'll work it out."

Johnson's history is that he will use a lot of players. As manager of the New York Mets, Lenny Dykstra and Mookie Wilson shared time, and Kevin Mitchell played some outfield, some third base, some shortstop. With Cincinnati the past several years, he tried different lineups, different leadoff hitters, and used his bench extensively; part-timers like Lenny Harris and Thomas Howard played integral roles.

To compensate for pitching injuries and holes in the rotation, he relied heavily on his bullpen, and Reds general manager Jim Bowden praised him for using relievers when they had a good chance of success. "He knows how to run a pitching staff," Bowden said.

That's an attribute that Johnson may have learned from two of his former managers with the Orioles, Hank Bauer and Earl Weaver. "From Bauer, I learned how not to use the pitching staff," Johnson said. "He was a little bit more gruff.

"From Earl, I learned how to use a pitching staff. Earl set up a pitching staff as well as anybody I've ever seen."

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