Minus sluggers, O's still booming New cast already has three 4-homer games


VERO BEACH, Fla. -- The ball sailed out of Holman Stadium the same way it has everywhere the Orioles have played this spring. The tradewinds seem to be blowing out to every field. Either that or little has changed since the club broke the major-league record for home runs in a season last year.

The Orioles hit four more home runs in yesterday's 7-1 exhibition victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Pete Incaviglia and Lenny Webster hit back-to-back homers in the second inning. Jeffrey Hammonds hit his third of the spring in the seventh and utility man Jeff Reboulet completed the team's third four-homer performance in the first six Grapefruit League games.

Isn't this the same team that let Bobby Bonilla, Todd Zeile and Eddie Murray go during the off-season? Weren't the Orioles supposed to be a more multidimensional offensive team?

"We've got some guys who are going to hit," said manager Davey Johnson. "When you hit as many home runs as we hit last year, it's not like it's going to drop to zero when you lose a few guys."

Johnson actually was more impressed with the club's strong pitching performance. Scott Erickson bounced back from a tough first outing to give up just a hit over two innings and several of the organization's best young pitchers threw well in relief.

Still, the resemblance to last year's offense is striking. The Orioles lead the majors in home runs this spring with 13 -- all in their four exhibition victories.

Incaviglia hit his second in as many days, following up a grand slam on Monday against the Atlanta Braves with a bases-empty shot in a four-run second inning against Dodgers right-hander Ismael Valdes, and quickly validating the club's decision to re-sign him.

He came to camp in better shape and with the kind of attitude Johnson loves. The 11-year veteran wants to play, but he recognizes that his role likely will be limited to the number of at-bats he can get as a right-handed DH and pinch hitter.

"I want to put a World Series ring on my finger," Incaviglia said. "I'm not concerned with how I'm used. I'm just going to be ready to play every day. That's my job."

Johnson isn't surprised by Incaviglia's big start. The nearly 33-year-old outfielder has always carried a big stick. The problem is finding a place for it in the lineup when you've got five other guys in the outfield/DH mix.

"He's just a good hitter," Johnson said. "The year the Phillies went to the World Series, he had the best year of anybody over there. I know with the Mets, we couldn't get him out. But a lot of guys are swinging the bat pretty good. Hammonds swung the bat good, too."

Hammonds hit two homers in the exhibition opener on Thursday. He went 2-for-2 yesterday and now is batting an impressive .636 with six RBIs. That has to please general manager Pat Gillick, who would love to package him in a trade for another front-line pitcher, and it should be good news to Johnson, who says he wants Hammonds to stay and reach his potential in an Orioles uniform.

Webster hasn't hurt his standing either. He has hit safely in all three of his games, going 5-for-8 (.625) and driving in four runs. He doesn't have to hit that much to make the team as the backup to Chris Hoiles, but he could make a case for extra playing time with a big offensive performance this spring.

Webster, who had only 16 home runs in his eight-year career before yesterday, waved off the idea he was taking aim at the No. 1 catching job. "I didn't come in here with that idea," he said. "My thing is that whenever I get an opportunity to play, do the best I can."

Erickson started with Webster behind the plate for the second time and got better results this time to even his exhibition record at 1-1.

Though there has been speculation that Webster will be Erickson's personal catcher, Johnson said the pairing again was a coincidence. He reiterated his desire to avoid any situation that limits his roster flexibility, though he allowed that kind of relationship to develop between Erickson and veteran catcher Mark Parent last year.

"Scotty never came to me and requested anything last year," Johnson said. "That's just the way it worked out."

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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