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Talks' progress frustrates Mora


VIERA, Fla. -- With the sides still far apart on a contract extension, Melvin Mora's frustration is increasing, as is the possibility that spring training will pass without a new agreement between the Orioles and their All-Star third baseman.

Mora said yesterday that he will be talking in-depth with his agent, Lon Babby, in the next day or two and that among the topics will be his insistence that a deal gets done before spring training ends. It's possible, he said, that a deadline of April 3, Opening Day, is an option, with negotiations halting until season's end.

"When play starts, I just want to play baseball," Mora said. "That's one thing I am going to sit down and talk with [Babby] about. He needs to see what I am thinking and I want to know what he is thinking. We are a team."

Reached by phone yesterday, Babby said he and Mora have not wavered on their desire to have a deal done by the end of spring training. But, if the sides are close heading into April, Babby expects negotiations would continue.

"There's going to come a time that we do a deal or don't do a deal," Babby said. "But on the other hand, we are not going to set artificial deadlines if we are making progress.

"I just think [Mora] gets frustrated with the pace of things," Babby said.

Babby said he is waiting for a response from the Orioles after making a recent counteroffer. Neither he nor Orioles officials would reveal details, but it's believed Mora, 34, is interested in a three-year deal with an option that could be worth about $10 million a year.

The Orioles likely aren't willing to go above a standard three-year contract worth in the neighborhood of $8 million a season.

"It has progressed. I just don't think it has progressed as quickly as either side wants," Orioles vice president Jim Duquette said. "We're still hopeful."

Hidalgo may not return

Richard Hidalgo, signed last week to a minor league deal, left the team Saturday to be with his wife, who was hospitalized briefly with an illness. The Orioles, however, aren't sure Hidalgo will return once his personal matter is resolved.

The veteran outfielder had been seeking a guaranteed deal, but instead agreed to a minor-league contract with the Orioles on Feb. 26 and was expected to compete for the starting left-field job. Since his roster spot is not guaranteed, however, he is reconsidering playing for the Orioles, an industry source said. It is possible he'll soon ask to be released or sold to another organization.

Jensen released

The Orioles have released right-handed pitcher Ryan Jensen, who had been hoping to compete for a bullpen spot. Jensen, 30, was 3-2 with a 7.11 ERA in nine games with the Kansas City Royals last season. He allowed two unearned runs and picked up the loss in his only spring appearance with the Orioles.

"We thought about sending him out, but our minor league people thought they didn't have a spot for him there either," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said. "As a veteran guy, we thought the only fair thing to do was give him as good of a chance as we could to hook on with someone else."

Thinking of Puckett

When he heard that Hall of Fame outfielder Kirby Puckett had suffered a stroke yesterday, Perlozzo thought immediately of his days coaching with the Seattle Mariners, when he would stand in the third base coach's box at the Metrodome and be heckled by Puckett, the Twins' superstar.

"He's one of the nicest, happiest men I had ever seen, a professional. We used to tease all the time," Perlozzo said. "He'd call me Perloz and he'd yell, 'Hey, Perloz, watch out. You are going to get hit with the ball.' "

Washington Nationals manager and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson said about Puckett: "Everybody underestimated him initially because of his size, his weight. But he was a tremendous player and is a tremendous individual and I am sorry to hear it."

Around the horn

Utility man Howie Clark was scratched from yesterday's start with a sore left thumb and wrist that he had previously injured on a swing. He was replaced by Luis Lopez at second base. ... Prospect Jim Johnson is expected to start today's game against the St. Louis Cardinals' Jason Marquis in Jupiter, Fla. Other Orioles scheduled to pitch are Winston Abreu, Scott Rice and Chris Ray.

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