Orioles' position is just right for Oates

February 21, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles are better -- and in a better position to win the American League East -- than they were last season. But watch out for those New York Yankees with newcomers Wade Boggs, Jimmy Key and Jim Abbott.

That's what manager Johnny Oates said in a question-and-answer session with The Sun last week. In fact, Oates said he thinks the Yankees are the most improved team in the division: "Talent-wise, I put New York right up there with Toronto."

As for his own team, Oates is expecting big comebacks from Cal Ripken and Glenn Davis to propel the Orioles to more than the 89 victories they had in 1992. And he said even though he will be looking for Chito Martinez, Luis Mercedes or David Segui to "step up" in right field, if he could add one quality player right now, it would most likely be a right fielder.

Question: Are the Orioles a better team than they were in 1992? Why?

Answer: Yes. We are better if for no other reason than our young pitchers are a year older. This time last year Alan Mills wasn't even on the team and we didn't know about Arthur Rhodes. Both showed they could pitch in the big leagues -- and Mike Mussina, Ben McDonald and Gregg Olson have another year of experience.

Q: Based on your observations of what took place in the off-season, can this team win the American League East?

A: I try not to be unrealistically optimistic, but there's no doubt in my mind that we're in a better position to win. I think the two teams that finished ahead of us, Toronto and Milwaukee, have come back to the pack a little, and we've improved. I know Paul Molitor will help them [the Blue Jays], but you can't lose the number of players Toronto lost and not feel it -- and Molitor is a big loss for Milwaukee.

Q: Which team do you think improved the most?

A: New York. If Wade Boggs can come back he'll be a big addition to that lineup. And the addition of Jimmy Key and Jim Abbott is a big boost for the pitching staff.

Q: Which of the other teams do you think are the top contenders?

A: I believe the American League East will be have as competitive a race as there is. When it's over, somebody will be 20 games out in last place, because it always seems to happen that way. But I think there are four or five teams that could win it. Talent-wise, I put New York right up there with Toronto.

Q: How much does the lack of a permanent spring training facility hurt the Orioles' preparation?

A: It didn't hurt us last year. It would be more ideal if we had our own place, but last year was much better than two years ago, when we didn't have the necessary time to work on fundamentals. And our schedule is good this year. If we don't win, we won't be able to blame it on the facilities.

Q: Which players do you expect to show the biggest improvement over last year?

A: Cal Ripken and Glenn Davis, without question. I feel very optimistic about those two. I also expect the young players -- Chris Hoiles, Leo Gomez, David Segui, Chito Martinez, Leo Mercedes -- to get better. And I think the two Harolds can improve over last year, especially Reynolds because he'll play more. And I think coming home to play will be a real boost for Baines.

Q: After his 18-5 season last year, have your expectations for Mike Mussina changed?

A: You try and be realistic. How many pitchers go 18-5? Mike pitched very well last year -- and I think he's capable of pitching many years in a row just like that, whether he's 18-5 or not.

Q: Teams that have had dramatic turnarounds often fall back, as the Orioles did after 1989. What can you do to guard against that?

A: We're going to set goals. We're not satisfied with 89 wins. We're going to set individual goals that will lead to team goals. We know going in that 89 wins isn't enough.

Q: What is your biggest concern going into the season?

A: I don't like the word concern. A better term is what I'll be looking for. I'll be looking for someone to take control in right field; two or three pitchers who can come out of spring training ready to help us and two or three more who can go to Rochester and be ready if we need them.

Q: Do you have any theories about Cal Ripken's drop in production in 1992?

A: I don't know if it's a theory -- but this game sometimes can get to you mentally when you go into a slump. You start pressing, trying to find ways to turn it around. You widen your strike zone. You try to get three hits every at-bat. I think everything just snow-balled on him. It's like having your car caught in snow -- the harder you push on the gas pedal, the more you spin your wheels, but if you take it gradually, you get moving again.

Q: Since it was generally agreed that second base was a productive position last year, why were the Orioles so anxious to make changes at that position?

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