The Orioles' face lift continued on a smaller scale yesterday, when the club signed journeyman pitcher Keith Shepherd and Triple-A infielder Clay Bellinger to minor-league contracts.
Shepherd is a hard-throwing left-hander who has been with nine organizations in his 10-year pro career. Bellinger is a utility infielder who spent the past three seasons with the San Francisco Giants' Triple-A club in Phoenix.
General manager Pat Gillick is expected to announce another major-league signing soon -- outfielder Jerome Walton's name has come up a lot lately -- but even that seems like small potatoes after a month in which the club acquired two front-line starting pitchers, a premier closer, an everyday third baseman/DH and a six-time All-Star second baseman.
Still, yesterday's announcement was not without some human interest. The Orioles signed Shepherd largely on the say-so of two of the club's top players, Bobby Bonilla and Roberto Alomar.
"It's an interesting story," said player development director Syd Thrift. "Davey [Johnson] was calling around to introduce himself to all of the players, and Bobby told him about this guy on his team at Caguas who was throwing BBs. Then when Roberto Alomar came to town, we asked him about Shepherd and he said, 'I faced that guy two nights ago and he threw the ball right by me.' "
The Orioles dispatched advance scout Deacon Jones to Puerto Rico to take a look and he also liked what he saw.
Shepherd, who pitched briefly for the Boston Red Sox last year, is a long shot to stick with the major-league club, but the Orioles are risking little to bring him to camp.
He would be one of several pitchers competing for the two remaining spots in the Orioles' bullpen.
On another matter, Gillick will travel to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., next week to meet with the two pitchers who recently defected from the Cuban national team. First baseman Rafael Palmeiro is expected to join Gillick in Florida to aid in the recruiting effort of right-handers Livan Hernandez and Osvaldo Fernandez, but Gillick conceded that the Orioles may be at a bit of a disadvantage.
"If anybody has the inside track, it's the [Florida Marlins]," he said. "We've got a chance, but I don't know that it's a very good chance."
NOTES: Gillick had planned to fly to Louisiana to meet with Ben McDonald, according to league sources. But when he completed the trade for David Wells, he canceled the trip. . . . Orioles officials have talked about the possibility of acquiring catcher Randy Knorr, who played for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1995. Knorr throws well, a problem area for Chris Hoiles.