As players were being relocated to the minor-league complex in Sarasota, Fla., this spring, Orioles manager Ray Miller would issue the same challenge: Put up some numbers. Only then could they expect to be given a legitimate shot at making the club.
Willis Otanez took those words to heart. Re-signed by the Orioles after clearing waivers in December, he hit .285 with 24 doubles, 27 homers and 100 RBIs at Triple-A Rochester, and had his contract purchased Saturday when pitcher Scott Kamieniecki returned to the disabled list.
Otanez, 25, played the infield corners until being moved to right field for his last two games at Rochester. The change was made with Miller needing another right-handed-hitting outfielder after Jeffrey Hammonds' trade to Cincinnati. "I've been trying to get him here since we made the deal," Miller said.
The outfield isn't new to Otanez. Miller was told by first base coach Carlos Bernhardt that Otanez played 30 games there in the Dominican Republic last winter.
"When they asked me, I said, 'Yeah, I can do it,' " said Otanez, who knew his chances of being called up to play third base were slim.
"I understood my situation down there. I've got a superstar in front of me, Cal Ripken. I've got to do what it takes -- do the best I can, keep my numbers up. And to find another position was fine, too."
Otanez began last season at Rochester, had surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow on June 11 and was sent to Double-A Bowie. He finished the year at Rochester, getting just one hit in his last 16 at-bats. He was designated for assignment on Dec. 19.
No wonder he didn't become frustrated when the Orioles were slow to bring him up. At least he was playing.
"I was going out and having a lot of fun," he said. "That's the only way you can go out and give 100 percent. You can't be thinking about here because you don't have any control of that."
"I'm happy for him," Miller said. "He had 100 RBIs at Triple-A. That's what a guy's supposed to do to get to the big leagues. He's a valuable prospect. He's going to be with us in the future. He's out of options. He stays here or you lose him."
Watching Otanez this spring, Miller was impressed by his composure. "He didn't panic. I always judge young players when they get a ball hit to them with the game on the line, how they react. He took some rockets off the glove, off the chest, and gathered himself and made a strong throw. He made good plays left and right, and he can hit."
He should get some chances to do that with the Orioles scheduled to face left-handed pitching this week, including Chicago's Tom Fordham tomorrow.
Miller resisted giving Otanez his first major-league at-bat yesterday against left-hander Paul Assenmacher, allowing Harold Baines to hit with two runners on and two outs in the eighth. Baines grounded sharply to the right side, where first baseman Richie Sexson made a diving stop and threw to Assenmacher covering.
Anderson decision looms
Injured center fielder Brady Anderson will hit today while the club is off, and will attempt to run tomorrow before a decision is made whether to put him on the DL.
Anderson suffered a slight tear in the patella tendon of his right knee while leaping at the fence Thursday. He agrees with Miller that he can't play unless he's able to run hard. The club has set tomorrow as the deadline for a decision.
"I talked to him yesterday and said I needed to know something by Sunday, and he said, 'How can I tell you how I'm going to feel three days from now?' " Miller said.
Asked if Anderson could be used as the designated hitter, Miller said, "Maybe in certain situations, but I have the best DH [Baines] in baseball."
Bumbrys big and small
Not only has former Orioles player and coach Al Bumbry been in town this weekend with the Indians, his 10-year-old son Steven has been romping around Camden Yards in a No. 1 Bumbry jersey the past three days.
"Steven loves coming out here every chance he gets," said the elder Bumbry, now a first base coach with the Indians. "He still lives in Lutherville and plays baseball, basketball and soccer in the little leagues. Some people say he is another Ken Griffey Jr. Now let me emphasize, 'some people say he is.' That's the important thing."
Bumbry wore No. 1 during a 13-year career here.
Miller has approached starters Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson and Juan Guzman about pitching on three days' rest this weekend because of today's open date.
Mussina will start tomorrow in Chicago, followed by Guzman and Erickson. Rookie Sidney Ponson will open a six-game homestand Friday against Kansas City, and Mussina, Guzman and Erickson are expected to come back on short rest.
To avoid doing that with Ponson, Miller will have to use his fifth starter on Sept. 1 against Chicago. With Kamieniecki unavailable until Sept. 6, that assignment could go to Doug Drabek, who will pitch for Bowie tomorrow on a rehab assignment. Teams also can expand their rosters on that date.
Guzman said he pitched on three days' rest while with Toronto before the 1992 and 1993 playoffs. "I've done really good that way. I have a good history with that," he said.
Around the horn
Ripken turns 38 today. He went 0-for-4, ending an 11-game hitting streak. It was the first time in 47 games he hadn't reached by a hit, walk or hit-by-pitch. Dwight Gooden hasn't lost since July 26. His .640 career winning percentage ranks second to Mussina (.680) among active pitchers. The two hits off Jimmy Key were the first he's allowed in six innings of relief. B. J. Surhoff recorded his team-high 12th outfield assist, throwing out David Justice at third to end the Indians' first. Rich Becker, in his second start in center field, made a diving catch to rob Sexson to end the eighth inning.
AL wild card
.......... W ... L ... Pct. .. GB
Boston ... 76 .. 52 .. .594 .....
Orioles .. 69 .. 61 .. .531 ... 8
Texas* ... 67 .. 61 .. .523 ... 9
* -- Late game
Pub Date: 8/24/98