SARASOTA, Fla. -- Randy Milligan's experiment is a major part of Sam Horn's opportunity.
Manager Frank Robinson admitted as much here yesterday, after the Orioles' impressive 8-0 win over the Chicago White Sox in the exhibition opener for both teams.
The experiment of having Milligan play leftfield is not getting under way quickly, but Horn already has cashed the first dividend from his opportunity. The big lefthanded designated hitter crushed a three-run homer into the teeth of a gusty wind, setting the tone for the first exhibition and bringing back memories of last year's regular-season opener. Horn clubbed a pair of three-run homers that day, but only occasionally thereafter displayed the power the Orioles so desperately needed.
With the arrival of Glenn Davis in the blockbuster trade with Houston and the acquisition of free agent outfielder Dwight Evans, it appears the only way Horn can get his name into the lineup is if Milligan's outfield experiment is successful.
"There's no doubt that if Randy can play out there, it opens up more of an opportunity for Sam," said Robinson. "Because if Milligan -- or Davis -- don't play in the outfield they'll be getting at-bats as the DH. The same is true for Evans. If he's able to give us games in the outfield that also opens up the DH slot."
Left unanswered is where all the shuffling leaves Joe Orsulak, the team's most consistent hitter the last three years, but the one guy who always seems to come to camp without a job. That is a problem, though a pleasant one at this point, for Robinson to tackle another day.
For now he's committed to playing Milligan as often as possiblin the outfield, but yesterday that lasted for only two innings. Milligan jammed his left ankle running to first base and left the game without handling a chance in leftfield.
Though Milligan "guaranteed" he would be back in leftfield todaagainst the Rangers, he was overruled by Robinson, who decided to hold him back another day. "There's no point taking a chance at this point," said the manager. "We'll let him take some batting practice, then he can play over the weekend when we go to Fort Lauderdale" for two games against the Yankees.
While getting treatment in the clubhouse during yesterday'game, Milligan was asked what he was thinking. "I'm hurt -- and I don't have a contract," he quipped, with the wide smile that seems to be ever present. He was joking about being one of the three unsigned players left on the Orioles' roster (along with Gregg Olson and Mike Devereaux).
Monday is the deadline for clubs to renew contracts of unsigneplayers. It's possible the deadline could pass in Milligan's case, although he says it will have no effect on him. "I won't be walking out of camp, I can tell you that," he said. "I like that per diem -- I've got to have it."
Though his stint in leftfield was uneventful yesterday, Milligaknows his performance could have a definite bearing on the Orioles' performance. "It's no big deal," he said. "They didn't have to tell me anything except 'Randy, go to leftfield and see what you can do.' There wasn't anything to work out.
"I can see. I'm pretty smart. I know if I can play it opens upossibilities for other guys. It would make our lineup that much better."
Horn, of course, has a huge interest in the experiment. He and Milligan are good friends, dating back to their years as opponents in the International League. "I want him to be good at whatever he does," said Horn, whose home run was the talk of the game yesterday.
Horn did his part during the winter, fulfilling a promise to Robinson to report to camp in good shape. He lost 16 pounds (to 234), and the Orioles made sure he had some competition by inviting Larry Sheets.
After his early splash last year, Horn spent some time at Rochester, where he was phenomenal. "I put up some numbers there that I don't think anyone will ever touch in the minor leagues," Horn said.
He hit nine home runs and drove in 25 runs in only 13 games. "Hopefully that era is over with, and I won't have to prove myself all over again," he said.
So far Horn has stepped up to take advantage of his opportunity. Now if Robinson could only get his outfield experiment off the drawing table, the Orioles will be closer to resolving one of their biggest question marks of the spring.