ARLINGTON, Texas - Another detail of next year's Orioles team revealed itself yesterday. Unless traded, Delino DeShields will return next season as starting left fielder.
Impressed by DeShields' improvement just four weeks since he shifted from second base to the outfield, manager Mike Hargrove confirmed his thinking before last night's twi-night doubleheader against the Rangers. DeShields played left field in the opener for the 24th time in his last 26 starts after never having played the position before this season.
"He's a much better left fielder today than he was two weeks ago," Hargrove said. "I think that's a good position for him."
DeShields' speed has particularly impressed Hargrove. Sunday night, DeShields cut off a line drive by Angels left fielder Darin Erstad before it skipped to the wall, holding the fleet Erstad to a single. Monday night, he ranged against the Edison Field stands for another difficult play.
While not blessed with a strong arm, DeShields has shown improvement in that facet also, says Hargrove.
Such a move is not unexpected as the Orioles contemplated such a shift as long ago as spring training. The Cardinals considered moving DeShields to the outfield before he signed a three-year contract with the Orioles as a free agent before the 1999 season. He remained at second base with the Orioles but struggled with consistency, especially on plays to his backhand side. DeShields, 31, has remained consistent offensively, batting .314 in his last 13 games before last night's doubleheader and a team-high .300 among players who have remained with the team all season.
"Usually when you talk about a guy 31 years old, you don't talk about his ceiling," said Hargrove. "It's a little different territory. Given Bop's talent, ability and athleticism - I don't know what his ceiling is to be honest. He certainly has the ability to run down balls. His arm should continue to improve as he plays out there. He could be very good."
DeShields has shown enthusiasm for the move, which opens second base for Jerry Hairston. "He plays hard. He plays to win. And you don't see Bop dragging around. I think he likes it. That's the feedback I've gotten," Hargrove said.
Waiting on Albert
Hargrove and vice-president of baseball operations Syd Thrift met with injured outfielder Albert Belle Monday in Anaheim to confirm the decision that Belle won't play until results from last Wednesday's examination of his right hip are scrutinized further. Thrift returned to Baltimore yesterday and apparently will get his first glimpse of the results today. Belle underwent a magnetic resonance imaging last week and has not played since.
The club has described Belle's condition as "inflammation" of the hip. Hargrove said earlier this week that the injury would not have necessitated Belle landing on the disabled list if it had worsened before September; however, Belle has now missed nine consecutive games.
Around the horn
The club may soon announce when reliever Alan Mills will undergo arthroscopic shoulder surgery. Hargrove reiterated yesterday that Mills, who left the team last week to be examined by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., will not pitch again this season. ... Designated hitter Jeff Conine left last night's first game after his first at-bat with an ankle sprain. He was replaced by Greg Myers. ... Rookie first baseman Chris Richards entered yesterday with four of the Orioles' last six home runs. ... Former Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro is sitting on 396 career home runs, tying him with former Orioles outfielder Joe Carter for 34th on the all-time list. Palmeiro, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire are the only hitters to have hit 30 home runs for at least the last six seasons.