KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Third base and infield coach Juan Samuel still has to remind third baseman Melvin Mora to come in more against certain hitters that like to bunt, or to play closer to the line when the Orioles have a soft-tossing left-hander on the mound. He is constantly urging shortstop Miguel Tejada to be more aggressive in charging balls and to cheat a little in certain pitch counts.
About two months into the season, Samuel looks at the Orioles' infield defense as a work in progress, acknowledging that is still much improvement to be made.
"I think we've been fine with the most part, but there are a few mistakes that haven't showed up on the scoreboard," he said. "You've seen some mental things here and there, but these guys have been around. They know what they are doing. It's just a work in progress, but you have to keep reminding those guys."
As a team, the Orioles lead the American League with a .989 fielding percentage and have made only 21 errors, the fewest in the league. But Samuel was the first to admit that defensive statistics don't tell the whole story.
Tejada has five errors, the fifth fewest among AL shortstops who have started 15 games or more, but none this month entering last night. His .978 fielding percentage is the third best among regular AL shortstops. But he also gets heavy criticism for his lack of range, and scouts will tell you that it is deserved.
"I think sometimes he kind of forgets some of the things that we talk about and waits on ground balls too much," Samuel said. "He doesn't attack the ball at all times, but he's starting to notice it when he doesn't. That's a good thing. I'd also like to see him do a little more of moving with the pitch and cheating a little. We've been talking about it and working on it, but he's improving."
Mora has three errors, but also has yet to make one in May. He has the fifth fewest errors among AL third basemen and the second-best fielding percentage. However, he has also faced some scrutiny for his range and for allowing several infield hits in front of him.
"We've been talking about trying to get him to play in a little more," Samuel said. "He just doesn't feel comfortable. Since spring training, we've been attacking that and trying to get him to come in a little more. Right now, he's either staying in too much or is playing way back. There is no in between. That's something we'd like to see him get a little better at."
Lacking long relief
Orioles starters have gone at least seven innings in nine of the past 15 games and in 12 of the past 25 games. Only once in the past 16 games has a starter not gone at least five innings.
While manager Sam Perlozzo is encouraged by the string of solid starts, he also knows that it can't last forever and there will be times when a long reliever is needed. The problem is the Orioles currently don't have one on their roster since Brian Burres moved into the rotation.
"Yeah, that concerns me," Perlozzo said. "Even like with threatening rains, where your starter could go out and pitch two innings and you have an hour-and-a-half, two-hour delay, we've got a lot of game to make up with that bullpen. We'd have to get a couple innings out of [Scott] Williamson, [Todd] Williams and [Danys] Baez. And maybe somebody else."
Perlozzo said the club wouldn't rule out moving Burres to the bullpen in a pinch if he had enough rest, and then finding a starter the next time his spot came up in the rotation.
The Orioles, who have the fifth overall selection June 7 in the first-year player draft, will hold a workout for draft-eligible players tomorrow at Camden Yards. One player who may be in attendance is Josh Vitters, a high school third baseman from Anaheim, Calif. Vitters is considered one of the top hitting prospects in this year's class.
Around the horn
The Orioles still expect reliever Jamie Walker, who left the team early Monday morning after the birth of his fourth child, to rejoin them for today's series finale. ... Rehabilitating his shoulder at home in California, starter Jaret Wright likely will visit with the team and trainer Richie Bancells while the Orioles are in Anaheim this weekend.