WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Righthander Anthony Telford knows where he stands. He just wants to make sure he's still standing when opportunity presents itself.
"I'm going to be around," he said. "I'm that kind of guy. If you look at my whole career, you can see that. I'll be healthy. I'll be focused. I'll be around."
This should not be confused with false bravado. Telford knows he is not one of the five pitchers projected to be in the Orioles' starting rotation come Opening Day. He knows he has spent five years in the club's minor-league system and is looking at a sixth. He knows there is no direct route to a regular job in the major leagues, at least not this spring.
Manager John Oates might insist that Telford is one of nine candidates still competing for a place in the club's revamped starting rotation, but Telford has to know that he is well down on the depth chart.
It was with that knowledge that he went to the mound yesterday for a rare exhibition start. Oates inserted him into the rotation so that Rick Sutcliffe could move back into tonight's start against the Philadelphia Phillies. Telford would not have started otherwise, but he didn't care.
"It was a gift," he said, after pitching three solid innings to get the victory in the Orioles' 8-3 victory over the Montreal Expos at Municipal Stadium. "It was a blessing. At this stage, every inning is a good inning."
Telford gave up a run on one hit. He also accounted for a Baltimore run when he doubled in his only at-bat. Now he must go back to the 'B' games.
This could be the year he breaks through or it could be the year he becomes a minor-league journeyman. He doesn't know which, but he is willing to take his chances. Oates doesn't know either, or if he does, he isn't saying.
"He has thrown the ball pretty well," Oates said. "He threw great in a 'B' game and when he pitched against the Pirates [March 12], Manny [Alexander] dodged a ball and another one went under [Mark] McLemore's glove. I will say this -- I think he's throwing the ball harder now than he did when we called him up in 1990."
In short, Telford has not eliminated himself from consideration, but he was not that high on the list of candidates to begin with. He'll need some other pitchers to fall by the wayside to work his way into the major-league starting rotation.
From his perspective, it cannot look very promising, because the starting rotation looks very promising without him. Mike Mussina has opened the exhibition season with nine hitless innings. Ben McDonald is healthy and pitching well. Bob Milacki has been impressive. Rick Sutcliffe looks sound. There might be an opening for a fifth starter, depending on the physical condition of Storm Davis, but Jose Mesa has been very effective and even he will have to climb over veteran lefthander Dennis Rasmussen to get the job.
Oates faces some very tough decisions during the next three weeks, and optioning Telford would be a relatively easy one.
"You keep saying that these decisions will take care of themselves," Oates said yesterday, "but these guys aren't helping me a bit. Everybody is putting up zeroes. Somebody always seems to be doing something good. That's good, but it's bad. I just hope it continues."
Telford hopes he can continue to make it tough, even if he knows down deep that it probably won't make any difference.
"I can't rule anything out, because you never know what's going to happen," he said. "I'm just at the point where I need innings. Whether I start the season at Triple-A or in the major leagues, I've got 200 innings ahead of me somewhere."