Mike Figga had a blank space above his locker and an unlucky number on his back. He didn't care about either.
The nameplate could wait. And as long as the Orioles' newest catcher was wearing a major-league uniform, it didn't matter that 13 was sewn on it.
"I'm just happy to have a number on my back," he said. "I'd wear 99 if they wanted me to."
Figga, 28, was claimed off waivers from the New York Yankees on Thursday and activated before last night's interleague game against Philadelphia. To make room, the Orioles optioned catcher Tommy Davis to Triple-A Rochester.
A 44th-round selection of the Yankees in the 1989 draft, Figga had appeared in only two games this season, entering defensively in both ends of a May 22 doubleheader in Chicago. He didn't have an at-bat.
Though Jorge Posada and Joe Girardi were entrenched behind the plate in New York, the Yankees held on to Figga because he was out of options. They designated him for assignment on May 25, knowing he would be claimed after hitting .280 with 26 homers and 95 RBIs last year at Triple-A Columbus. He appeared in one game with the Yankees last season and in two games in 1997, going a combined 1-for-8.
"He's interesting to me," said manager Ray Miller. "I haven't seen him play that much, but I look at the 26 home runs and 95 RBIs at Columbus last year. That sounds pretty good.
"He's got a strong arm, he's agile and he gives you a good target. That's what I was told."
Figga lost a lot of ground in the AL East standings, but viewed the change in clubs as a positive development in his career.
"It's a good thing," he said. "I just hope to get a chance here and show people I can play. I'd try to do as much as possible in the bullpen, but it was tough to sit for 41 days and not see one inning, one at-bat. But I knew my situation."
His opportunities won't exactly be plentiful here, either. Charles Johnson appeared in his 28th consecutive game last night, including 27 starts, while Lenny Webster remains on the disabled list.
"Whether I'm here for a month or the rest of the year, I'm going to take it in stride and enjoy it. I'm in the big leagues," Figga said.
Davis appeared in five games with the Orioles, going 1-for-6, after his contract was purchased from Rochester on May 14 when Webster went on the DL. Webster was eligible to come off last week in Oakland but the strained tendon in his right ankle continues to inhibit his movement.
If Figga proves to be a viable backup to Johnson, Webster could become a candidate for a trade once healthy.
DeShields questions remain
Miller wrote Delino DeShields' name in the original lineup, but he didn't use a permanent marker.
DeShields left Tuesday's game against Seattle in the sixth inning with a lower back strain. Similar pain had caused him to miss two games last month, but a magnetic resonance imaging test on Thursday didn't reveal any damage.
Miller said before the game that DeShields' inclusion wasn't 100 percent, and he proved prophetic by inserting Jeff Reboulet after batting practice. DeShields also missed Wednesday's game in Seattle, with Reboulet going 1-for-3 in his place.
"I told him, 'If you feel it at all I'll give you another day,' " Miller said. "It's just a muscular thing. They seem to think he just needs to do more preventive exercises to make sure it's loosened before he goes out there."
DeShields said he felt "good enough to play" while dressing before the game, but that soon changed. He also didn't find much comfort in the MRI results. Too many unanswered questions remain.
"The MRI didn't show anything. That's the good news," he said. "But something is going on in there. I don't know what."
The latest injury occurred while DeShields was backing up shortstop Mike Bordick. He fell to the Kingdome turf in pain.
Miller has good reason for wanting his regular second baseman in the lineup. DeShields batted .375 (9-for-24) on the road trip and had hit safely in six straight games before grounding out as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning last night. Rich Amaral then replaced Reboulet in the field.
Miller remains a strong proponent of interleague play, especially now that the games don't bleed into September.
"I like it," he said. "I thought the first time we did it  it was great for baseball. We went to Atlanta and it was almost like a postseason event in the middle of the year. It kind of picked everybody up. I think it's good for baseball."
Miller has a suggestion, though. He'd like to see other divisions involved, rather than the Orioles always matched with the NL East. "If you want to see everybody, let's see everybody," he said. "Not that I particularly want Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in here."
Not everyone shares Miller's enthusiasm for these games, which continue next week when the Orioles travel to Florida and Atlanta.
"Why would you like it?" asked Will Clark. Told that last night's game gave him the chance to see the Phillies, he replied: "I've seen Philly before."
Call for equipment
Tomorrow baseball equipment and uniforms will be collected before the game as part of the "Cardboard to Leather Program."
In this program, new or used gloves, bats, balls and uniforms are distributed to children in the poorest areas of Central America and the Caribbean.
People not attending the game can bring donations to the stadium gate, to the Orioles offices or to the Catholic Relief Services offices at 209 W. Fayette St., Baltimore 21201. Monetary contributions should be addressed to "Cardboard to Leather c/o CRS/J. Addis," and sent to the CRS address.
Pub Date: 6/05/99