Orioles have few answers Opener in 3 weeks, but much work is left

March 18, 1991|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Correspondent

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Baltimore Orioles are more than halfway through spring training, but in many ways their preparations for the 1991 season are just beginning.

The exhibition season is well in progress. The players have been in camp for nearly a month. And yet, the critical questions facing the club not only remain unanswered -- which should not be considered unusual at this point -- but also remain largely unaddressed.

Manager Frank Robinson hoped to have some idea by now how first basemen Randy Milligan and David Segui might fare in the outfield, but the outfield experiment has been delayed by injuries and inclement weather.

The competition for playing time at third base should have begun to take shape by this time, but incumbent Craig Worthington has been slowed by a muscle strain in his thigh.

There also is the matter of Dwight Evans playing the outfield, but he still is trying to work the soreness out of his right knee. That picture might not clear up until the final days of spring training.

What's a manager to do? Apparently nothing.

"It's not a real concern yet," Robinson said, "but you'd rather have your guys go through the normal spring-training process instead of a crash course.

"I don't worry about the first couple of weeks or so. The last 10 days to two weeks, that's when I really want to put the club together and see how they react."

Robinson has not been in a position to put all of his front-line players on the field at the same time since the opening game of the Grapefruit League season, when Milligan sprained an ankle in a collision with Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas.

Since then, first baseman Glenn Davis has dropped out of action with a muscle strain in his neck, and Worthington has come up lame. Neither injury is considered serious or particularly time-consuming, but each has affected the evolution of the club.

The absence of Davis has forced the club to move Segui back to first base temporarily, further inhibiting the outfield conversion. Worthington's injury has placed the third-base competition on hold, but rookie Leo Gomez has been hard to ignore.

"If you're going to have these nagging things," Robinson said, "have them early. The lockout showed me you do need a full spring training."

The lockout limited teams to about three weeks of spring training. Imagine the trouble the Orioles would be in if the regular season were scheduled to start today. But there are three weeks left before the April 8 opener against the White Sox at Memorial Stadium.

Milligan said he thinks it will be enough time to get acclimated to the outfield, though he spent another six innings in left field yesterday and still hasn't gotten a fly ball in live competition.

"It looks like I'm going to be in left field, so I've got to go out and be the left fielder," he said. "There are going to be times when I don't get any plays out there, but there will be times when I'm a magnet."

Time will start running short if he doesn't get some hard outfield ++ experience soon.

"We won't be able to do as much as we'd like to," Robinson said, "but we're all right. I'm satisfied."

He has, at least, been able to begin evaluating the leadoff situation. Center fielder Mike Devereaux has started seven games at the top of the order and ranks among the top hitters on the club, with a .400 average. Brady Anderson has more classic leadoff skills, but has fallen into a 1-for-17 slump and is batting .167 overall.

The starting rotation appears to be sorting itself out. Left-hander Jeff Ballard pitched five scoreless innings yesterday in his third spring appearance.

"I'm throwing the ball better than I did at any time last year," said Ballard, who has given up just one earned run in 13 innings this spring. "My command is a lot better, and the sharpness of my pitches is a lot better, compared to the wonderful time I had last year."

Right-hander Ben McDonald is suffering from a muscle strain in his rib cage, but he has pitched well in two of his first three appearances. Dave Johnson and Jose Mesa also have pitched well in exhibition play. But it has not been so pleasant for Bob Milacki and Jeff Robinson, each of whom has been knocked around in his past two appearances.

The bullpen remains a question. Frank Robinson has placed Gregg Olson and Mark Williamson on restricted duty in an attempt to preserve their arms for the long haul. Left-handers Kevin Hickey and Paul Kilgus have pitched well, but it's too early to tell who will be the left-handed setup man. Mike Flanagan has been one of the most impressive pitchers in camp, but he has to prove his durability more than his pitching ability.

That is why somebody decided a long time ago that spring training should last six weeks. The Orioles apparently will need every bit of it.

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