CLEARWATER, Fla. -- There were a lot of shock waves in the clubhouse yesterday when the Orioles released Dwight Evins.
And the player hit hardest by the news is probably the one whose playing time will most directly be affected by the decision to put the veteran outfielder on waivers.
"I'm as shocked as everyone else," said Chito Martinez, who now figures to get the opportunity to play rightfield against both righthanders and lefthanders. "I didn't find out about it until I went down to the bullpen after coming out of the game [yesterday's 3-1 win over the Phillies].
"We had a very good relationship," Martinez said of Evans, 40, whose injury opened the big-league door for him a year ago. "I thought I'd be playing next to Dewey all season. I looked to him for a lot of advice.
"He helped me out a ton," said Martinez. "He taught me a lot about the mental and physical aspects of the game.
"I feel like I've got some knowledge now, that I've learned a lot in a short time -- and I owe it all to him."
The irony is that, when Martinez was trying to make the club as a non-roster player this time a year ago, Evans was one of his biggest boosters. "Everybody kept telling me he had a good swing, but that he wouldn't hit big-league pitching," Evans said. "And I always asked, 'How do you know?' "
Until the Orioles called him up from Rochester last July 5, Martinez had never played in a big-league game and had been to only one major-league spring training camp. After hitting 20 home runs in the Triple-A International League before his callup, Martinez added 13 more with the Orioles and restricted Evans' playing time during the second half of the season.
"He's got some ability and he's a good kid," said Evans, who perhaps more than anybody realized he might have a difficult time finding a place on the roster this year. "He's earned the opportunity to prove he can play every day."
The obvious reaction to the release of Evans is to assume Luis Mercedes' chances of making the team have improved. They have -- but not drastically enough to assure him a spot on the roster.
Manager John Oates, who called the decision(on Evans the most difficult he has had to make in his short term as manager, hedged when asked if Mercedes could be a third righthanded-hitting outfielder (behind switch-hitting David Segui and Mike Devezeaux) now that Evans is gone.
"We're going to wait and look at the total picture," Oates said after yesterday's win over the Phillies. "When the roster is reduced by one, you'd have to say everybody's chances are increased -- especially if they play the same position as the former player."
But Oates stopped short of giving Mercedes a strong endorsement. "His chances have improved a lot," said the manager, "but beyond that I won't speculate."
If Mercedes doesn't survive the final cut, still a strong possibility, it means the Orioles will be forced to use a lefthanded-hitting outfielder against lefthanded pitching. Martinez is expected to get the first shot.
"He and [Joe] Orsulak would be the first two I'd look at," said
Oates. Brady Anderson, the front-runner for the leadoff spot in the batting order against righthanded pitching, has only a .160 lifetime average in 237 at-bats against lefthanders. Orsulak has a .237 mark in 418 at-bats and Martinez hit .207 in only 29 at-bats against lefties last year.
"Johnny pretty much told me I'd be playing some against lefthanders," said Martinez. "I'm not concerned about that. I'll take it day by day. I really don't know what will happen, but I've hit them [lefthanders] before."
Despite limited playing time against lefthanders, Oates recalled that Martinez "had some pretty good swings against guys like Chuck Finley [of the Angels]."
Oates would not speculate as to how the departure of Evans would affect the final makeup of the roster. But it removes any lingering doubt about Segui's making the team.
Segui now figures as the regular leftfielder against lefthanded pitchers, a late-inning replacement at first base, where he also will start occasionally, and possibly as a part-time designated hitter.
Of the three lefthanded-hitting outfielders, Martinez is the only one without a track recorl against lefthanded pitchers in the big leagues. That, and the proximity of the rightfield wall in Oriole Park, will likely get him an opportunity to become an everyday player.
Unless Mercedes makes the team, Devereaux would continue to bat in the leadoff spot against lefthanded pitchers. Oates admits it's not the ideal solution, but one he may have to live with.
"You'd like to have your speed in front of Cal [Ripken] and Glenn [Davis]," he said. "And those guys would probably like to have the same people in front of them all the time, so they could get used to them.
"But, if I'm going to drop Devereaux down in the lineup, I've got to have another leadoff hitter [besides Anderson]."
That need is the best opening for Mercedes but, barring a trade of some kind,(he will still be battling a numbers problem when it comes time to pick the Opening Day roster.
"We have 20 position players left and five of them have to go -- in some way," said Oates. "Some of those decisions might not be made until we go north.
"We're just going to see what happens the rest of the way [in spring training] and go from there."