Alexander says he's a shortstop, so options few He shuns third base; Gillick not high on trade


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- When word reached Manny Alexander about the Orioles' signing of All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar, he figured he'd be traded immediately.

But he's still with the Orioles, wondering about his future. "I don't know what's going to happen," he said. "I don't know if they're going to trade me, or what. . . . I don't know how I'm going to help the team."

Alexander came up through the minors as a shortstop, but the presence of Cal Ripken has prevented him from breaking into the Orioles' lineup at that position. Told by former Orioles manager Phil Regan that his only chance of playing last season was to move to second, Alexander made the switch, with mixed results.

Now the Orioles have a shortstop and a second baseman who play every day. Manager Davey Johnson said last week that if Alexander were to play on a semi-regular basis for the Orioles, it probably would have to be at third base. Alexander has worked a few bunt plays at third in the first workouts, but he said he's spending almost all of his time at shortstop.

ZTC "I've never played third base before," said Alexander. "I'm a shortstop."

Alexander is out of options, and the Orioles cannot send him to the minors without passing him through waivers. They'd likely trade him before that happened, but earlier this month, Orioles general manager Pat Gillick said he wasn't interested in dealing Alexander.

Alexander said: "I'll wait and see what happens, if they trade me or keep me here."

Percibal's baby has surgery

The 3-week-old son of minor-league prospect Billy Percibal had surgery yesterday morning to remove fluid from his brain, and everything went well, Gillick said. The Orioles helped to arrange for an emergency visa for Percibal's Wife and child to travel from the Dominican Republic to the United States for the surgery.

Pitching update

Arthur Rhodes and Alan Mills pitched to hitters for the first time since their respective shoulder surgeries, and both said they felt comfortable. Mills said he has a shot at being ready by Opening Day, April 1, and Rhodes said it might be two or three weeks before he really cuts loose with his fastball. "It may be longer," he said. "I'm going to take it slow. I just want to be $H careful."

* Gillick was asked which of the young pitchers in camp impressed him, and the first he mentioned was Rocky Coppinger.

"He looks like he's everything people said he was," said Gillick, who has also liked what he has seen of left-hander Aaron Lane and right-handers Keith Shepherd and Oscar Munoz.

Looking for final pieces

Gillick acknowledged yesterday that assistant general manager Kevin Malone contacted Kansas City about one of its left-handed-hitting outfielders. "They've got a few over there," Malone said, noting Jon Nunnally, Tom Goodwin and Michael Tucker. Malone said the talks haven't really progressed to date. Some members of the organization believe acquiring another solid outfielder who can play all three spots is important.

* An Orioles scout was in the Toronto camp yesterday, which may be related to their search for a backup catcher. The Orioles had talks last month with the Blue Jays about acquiring Randy Knorr, but Toronto may not be ready to make a deal until it makes sure its other catchers get through training camp without injury.

* The Orioles made cursory inquiries into the availability of former Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly, but were told Mattingly would want to be an everyday player if he returned, and would only return to New York.

* Gillick said club officials discussed the availability of free-agent outfielder Darryl Strawberry, but decided against making a bid. "We talked about Strawberry, not to Strawberry," Gillick said. "It was a talent issue. We had questions about his hitting."

Slime ball from McDowell

Reliever Roger McDowell, perhaps the most infamous prankster in baseball, obviously is getting more comfortable with his surroundings. He caught a small lizard yesterday, and surprised new teammate David Wells.

* Johnson obviously hasn't settled on who will be his third baseman. B. J. Surhoff and Bobby Bonilla both took grounders at the position, and when asked about some of the questions to be answered in spring, Johnson's first response was, "Who's going to play third base?"

* Johnson said it looks as if three players -- Bill Ripken, Jeff Huson and Alexander -- are battling for two spots as utility men, although he wouldn't rule out the possibility he'd keep all three.

Top 10 decisions

Barring injuries, the Orioles should have an unusual spring training -- one without any major questions. But there are a few decisions to be made:

1. Who will play third, B. J. Surhoff or Bobby Bonilla?

2. Will Armando Benitez progress and win a spot as a right-handed middle reliever?

3. Which two among the trio of Bill Ripken, Manny Alexander and Jeff Huson will be utility men? If Alexander isn't one, what will the team do with him?

4. Will the Orioles acquire a backup catcher, bumping Gregg Zaun back to Triple-A?

5. Will the Orioles acquire a left-handed-hitting outfielder?

6. Who will be the Orioles' fifth starter -- Jimmy Haynes, Rocky Coppinger or Rick Krivda?

7. Will the Orioles keep Rule 5 draftee Kimera Bartee, or offer him back to the Minnesota Twins for $25,000?

8. How will Johnson use Mike Devereaux?

9. How many autographs will Cal Ripken sign?

10. Who will be the first player victimized in a big way by practical jokester Roger McDowell?

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