FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Manager Davey Johnson said he still believes Kelly Gruber can help the Orioles. But it won't be as the starting second baseman on Opening Day.
That job belongs to Jeff Reboulet.
Johnson made the announcement after yesterday's 8-5 loss to the Florida Marlins. It was news that had been anticipated by just about everyone except Reboulet.
"Anything in this game can surprise you. You've got to be ready for everything," he said.
"That makes me happy. It's something that I've dreamed about, playing on Opening Day. I get my chance. I just want to go out there and play well."
"He certainly deserves it," Johnson said.
Reboulet, 32, signed a minor-league contract with the Orioles as a free agent in late January after five seasons with the Minnesota Twins. He was needed for a utility role -- he also can catch in an emergency -- but will start while Roberto Alomar serves his five-game suspension.
"As a utility player, your job is to fill in when you need to fill in and do your job when called upon. It looks like I've just got a little more preparation to get ready for one spot," he said.
"It's business as usual. I'm not going to do anything different. I can't be Roberto. I'm just going to be Jeff Reboulet and go out there and play. Whatever happens the first five days happens. My goal is to be here at the end of the year and win a World Series. I want a ring."
Reboulet had two hits and scored twice yesterday, and made a good play at shortstop after moving over from second base when Gruber entered the game. A career .248 hitter in the majors, he's batting .319 this spring with a team-leading 15 runs scored. He has also committed five errors, most on the club. Getting to this point also meant having to beat out Manny Alexander, who was traded to the New York Mets on Saturday despite hitting .353 with 10 RBIs.
"I knew there was competition here," he said. "Manny is a good player. Gruber's coming off an injury. Who knows what could happen? There's always trades. You don't know in this game so you've always got to be prepared. They can make a trade at any time and you're out.
"I go with the theory that once you think you're in this game, you're out. And when you think you're out, you're in. You've just got to keep playing, do your best, and if they tell you it's not good enough, then you go somewhere else and try to play."
Gruber, who last played in 1993 with the California Angels when he appeared in 18 games, had a ninth-inning double yesterday and raised his average to .256. He's 11-for-27 after going hitless in his first 16 at-bats.
"A lot of times we're quick to judge," Johnson said. "He struggled a little bit early and he was playing a position he didn't play much. Mostly, he played third base and the outfield. I think he's had a pretty good spring, all things considered. You take away his early 0-for-12 or whatever it was, he's having a darned good spring."
A former All-Star with the Toronto Blue Jays, Gruber said the club hasn't discussed sending him to Triple-A Rochester, though that apparently is the preference of general manager Pat Gillick.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," said Gruber, 35, who underwent fusion surgery two years ago to repair a herniated disk in his neck. "I just need to stay focused on how I feel and how I'm progressing. As long as I can keep my eyes on that, I've got some kind of control of myself.
"If I continue to progress and I feel good, then I'm going to play somewhere."
And he doesn't want to plant any minor-league ideas in the Orioles' heads.
"I don't know if I should say anything. I don't want to pave any roads to give them an opportunity to choose whatever. I want them to solely determine it on what they see and what they want to think, and not what I say."
Johnson already has said Gruber will accompany the team north. "The way we're short-handed, we're definitely going to hold on to him some way or the other," he said.
Gruber has been encouraged by his comeback from the beginning of spring training, even when his average suffered.
"Just being able to put on the uniform was a big encouragement for me. That was nothing to be taken for granted. I was really thrilled," he said.
"Each day I go out, I feel a little bit better. Things seem to be coming around."
Pub Date: 3/26/97