Organization, players round into shape Eager veterans show up ready to get under way; young pitchers strut stuff


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Orioles' first formal workout of spring training went off without a hitch, or a bruise, or a pulled muscle, and that news was sweet music to the ears of manager Davey Johnson.

"I don't know that we're where we need to be," Johnson said, "but it bodes well for the rest of the year that we are in much better shape healthwise than we were at this time a year ago."

The Orioles opened camp a year ago with serious questions about the durability of several players, including relievers Alan Mills and Arthur Rhodes, but Johnson said no player required special treatment after yesterday's workout.

"It looks like everyone -- from Mike Mussina to Rocky Coppinger -- kept themselves in pretty good shape."

The club also is in much better shape from a depth standpoint. The camp is crowded with a group of promising young players who are changing the perception of the club's minor-league system. The same manager who was aghast at the lack of organizational depth when he arrived here last year is encouraged at the progress the club has made.

"I didn't have anything to base it on," he said, "but the depth in Double-A and Triple-A was real shallow. We're not where we need to be, but we might be in another year or a half a year."

Johnson reeled off the names of some of the young pitchers he watched take the mound during the workout -- Tom Davey, Alvie Shepherd, Sidney Ponson, Matt Snyder, Brian Williams -- and looked ahead to a time when the Orioles' organization will be self-sufficient like that of the Atlanta Braves.

"If you want to be a truly great organization, you have to have that," he said.

Weighty matters

Not many major-league players aspire to come to spring training heavier than the year before, but Mussina arrived with an extra 6 pounds of upper-body weight. Theoretically, the extra muscle could give him more staying power in the late innings, but he said yesterday that he didn't set out to bulk up.

"I didn't consciously decide to do it," Mussina said, "but I didn't coach basketball this year, so I spent more time working out. I just felt like working a little harder in the off-season, so I got into a pretty good routine, put on a few pounds and here I am."

Meanwhile, catcher Chris Hoiles was working in the other direction. He came to camp noticeably thinner, dropping from a playing weight of 225 to 217.

"I want to steal more bases this year," Hoiles said, laughing.

Then he pointed out that he might have a hard time stealing any fewer. He didn't steal one last year.

"I think I have one career stolen base at the major-league level," said an overly humble Hoiles, who has four stolen bases in his six major-league seasons.

No place to play

No longer is Cal Ripken standing in the way of Manny Alexander at shortstop. But even after waiting years to become Ripken's replacement, there is no chance Alexander will be the shortstop now that Mike Bordick is in camp.

In other words, Alexander is, as usual, hoping for a trade and a chance to play elsewhere. "I don't have a chance here," said Alexander. "I hope they'll do something. I'm here to play, and I'll do whatever they want me to do."

Alexander played extremely well last spring, and he'll need to again this spring if the Orioles are to make a trade.

Davis likes right field

When Eric Davis was signed, the Orioles penciled him in at left field. But when Johnson called Davis during the winter, Davis said he loves to play right field. If Davis plays right, the Orioles could leave B. J. Surhoff in left, where he played at the end of last year. "If B. J. stays in left the whole year," bench coach Andy Etchebarren said, "he'll do a pretty good job out there. You'll see. He'll work hard at it."

Early arrivals

The first workouts are geared toward pitchers and catchers, but a number of other position players could not wait until the first full-squad workout to take the field. New shortstop Bordick, outfielder Pete Incaviglia and infielders Alexander and Jeff Reboulet were in camp.

The most prominent no-show, was the same as last year. Closer Randy Myers coaches a junior college women's basketball team in his home state of Washington, and may arrive as late as March 1.

"He doesn't want to peak too early," Johnson said, jokingly. "His program would really be messed up if he got here before March 1."

Flanagan fills in

Former pitching coach and star pitcher Mike Flanagan was in uniform yesterday, filling in for Moe Drabowsky, whose arrival in camp has been delayed. Flanagan is acting as something of a pitching consultant but remains primarily a member of the Home Team Sports broadcasting crew.

Waszgis impressive

Catcher B. J. Waszgis had an impressive first round of batting practice on the main field at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, peppering the field behind the left-field fence with baseballs while a group of pitchers went through fielding drills.

Pub Date: 2/16/97

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