NEW YORK -- The Baltimore Orioles placed catcher Ernie Whitt on waivers for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release yesterday and purchased the contract of power-hitting outfielder Chito Martinez from the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings.
Whitt batted .242 as a third catcher and left-handed pinch hitter, but the club could no longer justify keeping him on the roster. Martinez was leading the International League with 20 home runs at a time when the Orioles were short on outfield depth. It was an obvious move that the club had been considering for the past couple of weeks.
"I wasn't surprised," Whitt, 39, said. "If you look at it, I hadn't started a game in 18 days. The writing was on the wall. Surprised, no. Disappointed, yes. I'd like to have finished the year with them, and I'm disappointed that I didn't get to play more."
Whitt said that he would go home and wait out the six-day waiver period. If someone claims him, that club would assume the remainder of his $300,000 salary. If not, he would becomes a free agent.
"I hope he goes home and makes 25 phone calls," manager John Oates said. "Just because he doesn't fit in here doesn't mean he can't help someone."
There might be a market for a left-handed-hitting catcher, though the demand for Whitt's services was not great when the Orioles invited him to spring training as a non-roster player.
"I'm going to go home and see if anyone calls," Whitt said. "If not, I'm going to spend some time with my family."
Martinez, 5 feet 10, 180 pounds, was signed last winter as a six-year minor-league free agent. He had solid power statistics when he was in the Kansas City Royals organization, but never got a real chance to make the major-league club. He was batting .322 with 20 home runs and 50 RBI for the Red Wings when the call came.
"I've been swinging the bat well," Martinez, 25, said. "I've been staying within myself and trying to remain consistent. Everything seemed to pay off."
The Orioles apparently decided that they could wait no longer for Dwight Evans to return from a strained Achilles' tendon. Martinez gives them more left-handed outfield depth at a time when Brady Anderson (.187) and Joe Orsulak (.239) are struggling at the plate.
"Evans was not ready," general manager Roland Hemond said, "and with [Chris] Hoiles coming along well and [Bob] Melvin here, it was time to bring Martinez on board."
Martinez went 1-for-5 last night against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
Worthington hurt again
Third baseman Craig Worthington re-injured his right hamstring during a game this week and has been placed on the minor-league disabled list.
Worthington was placed on the major-league DL May 21 with a hamstring strain. He was optioned to Rochester after completing a 20-day injury-rehabilitation assignment because rookie Leo Gomez had established himself as the everyday third baseman.
The Orioles were thought to be trying to trade Worthington, but it will be difficult to move him until he proves that his leg is sound.
Orioles sign McLemore
The team announced that it has signed former California Angels infielder Mark McLemore to a Rochester contract. He replaces Worthington on the Red Wings' roster.
McLemore was once considered to be the Angels second baseman of the future, but he fell out of favor with the club after several attempts to establish himself as an everyday player. He spent the 1990 season with the Cleveland Indians and opened 1991 with the Houston Astros, where he hit .148 in 21 games before being released June 25.
Orioles catchers are batting .343 since June 11. . . . Randy Milligan was batting .187 the day he met Queen Elizabeth II (May 15). Since then, he's batting .342 with 10 homers and 36 RBI in 45 games. . . . The Yankees have the best record in the AL East against teams in their own division (22-12).