ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Orioles manager John Oates is eager to take advantage of every inning this spring, but he was quick to agree when the umpiring crew chose to call yesterday's exhibition game to a premature conclusion because of unplayable conditions.
The Texas Rangers were leading, 5-0, when a steady rain turned Al Lang Stadium into a quagmire, but Oates said he would rather accept a Grapefruit League loss than risk losing a player on the slick grass or the muddy base paths.
"You hate to lose the battle," Oates said, "but it's better to come back to fight again tomorrow. We needed to get off that field."
Oates had pulled shortstop Cal Ripken out of the game after his second at-bat, prompting speculation that he might have injured himself in some way. But the move was made to make sure he didn't.
"Sometimes you've got to use young players or utility players in a situation like that," Oates said, "but you don't want to get anybody hurt. You don't want anybody to have to be a sacrificial lamb out there. The umpires handled it well."
Relief stopper Gregg Olson was scheduled to follow starter Rick Sutcliffe to the mound, but he warmed up a couple of times and then was told to sit down. Middle relief candidate Jim Lewis went to the mound instead and pitched two scoreless innings.
"I wasn't going to send Olson out there," Oates said. "He thought he was pitching today, but he wasn't. I sent Lewis instead, but I didn't want him getting hurt, either."
The Orioles can be forgiven for being a little protective of their pitching. With the exception of sore-shouldered left-hander Jim Poole, everyone is healthy and most everyone is pitching well. Olson was prepared to pitch, but he didn't argue when he never got the ball.
"When you're landing, all it takes is one slip and who knows what's going to happen," he said.
Mercedes drops one
Outfield candidate Luis Mercedes dropped a routine fly ball off the bat of Rangers outfielder Kevin Reimer in the first inning of yesterday's game, but Oates says that he is improving his defensive game.
"He has worked hard and he has gotten better," Oates said. "That [the miss] comes from a lack of concentration. You or I could have caught that ball. I can't tell you what he was thinking out there, but a drop like that is not from being a bad outfielder, just as catching a ball like that doesn't make you a good outfielder.
"The thing that bothered me the most was that he was hanging his head in the dugout afterward. I told him: 'You've worked your tail off to get better. Get your head up and hope the next ball is hit to you.' "
Davis starts today
Right-hander Storm Davis will be trying to build on a pair of solid performances when he takes the mound today for an afternoon game against the New York Yankees. Davis has given up one earned run in 6 1/3 innings, but he must continue to pitch well to assure himself a place in the starting rotation.
Jose Mesa has been on the outside looking in, but his performance recently has made him a legitimate candidate for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Mesa is out of options and his arm isn't built for the bullpen, so things could get interesting during the next couple of weeks.
Submarine pitcher Todd Frohwirth will try to get back into a groove in today's game. He has pitched in five games, compiling a 10.13 ERA.
"His velocity isn't what it should be yet," Oates said. "Boz [pitching coach Dick Bosman] has looked at his tapes and they've continued to work at it, but I just don't see the good hard sinking action I saw last year. It may take him some time to get in shape."
The Orioles' 12-5 start equals the second-best record the club has had after 17 spring games. The 1969 club won 14 of its first 17 exhibition contests. The 1954, 1963 and 1977 clubs were 12-5.
Designated hitter Sam Horn appears to have overcome the hamstring injury he suffered during early workouts. He did not play yesterday, but he was available to pinch hit. . . . . Outfielder/first baseman David Segui came up with a tight hamstring after Saturday's game and was kept off the slick field yesterday as a precaution. . . . Brady Anderson still is suffering from a sore ankle, but it hasn't kept him from being one of the club's most-used players.