PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Second baseman Mark McLemore might be a long shot to win a place on the Orioles' Opening Day roster, but he delivered a long shot yesterday that might help his case.
McLemore lined a bases-empty home run over the left-center-field fence in the top of the eighth inning to bring the club back from a one-run deficit. The Orioles would go on to lose the exhibition game, 2-1, to the Texas Rangers at Charlotte County Stadium, but not before McLemore showed he might be able to deliver some punch off the bench.
"It certainly doesn't hurt him," manager John Oates said. "I like our utility men to be able to swing the bat."
McLemore would have to unseat either veteran Tim Hulett or 23-year-old Juan Bell to win one of the two infield utility jobs. Hulett seems relatively safe, but Bell displayed only limited effectiveness in a reserve role last year. He is a natural shortstop on a club that needs anything but. McLemore is a natural second baseman who once was one of the most promising prospects in the California Angels organization.
Oates indicated the club probably would go with two utility infielders, but is not ready to speculate on the chances of any of the three candidates.
"There could be a number of things that affect the decision," Oates said. "There is always the possibility of a trade -- can one of them play at Rochester? -- but the bottom line is, which two will most benefit our team."
McLemore knows he has a lot to prove in a relatively short time, and he isn't making any predictions. He has said all along he is going to play hard and keep his opinions to himself.
He caught on with the Houston Astros as a non-roster infielder in 1991, only to be cut when Casey Candaele established himself as the regular second baseman. Now, he's trying to catch on as a non-roster invitee with the Orioles, a team that has an established second baseman in Bill Ripken.
Oates took him aside early in spring training and told him to be prepared to play more than one position, so McLemore has spent time at both second and third base. But it is at the plate where he will either win or lose a job.
"I honestly don't know what is going to happen," Oates said. "We'll just put them out there and let them play."