SARASOTA, Fla. -- It was a particularly unpleasant day for the Orioles to begin live competition, but yesterday's first spring intrasquad game produced a string of pleasant developments.
The wind was gusting at about 30 mph, making the game a blowout in more ways than one, but there were answers blowing in that wind, answers to questions that have been buffetting the Orioles all winter.
* Catcher Chris Hoiles, who underwent wrist surgery soon after the end of the 1992 season, hit a 460-foot home run in his first competitive at-bat since the operation. The wind might have been blowing out to left, but there was nothing cheap about the two-run shot that landed in the parking lot more than 100 feet behind the fence.
* Newcomer Harold Reynolds, who is coming off a frustrating 1992 season at the plate, also homered on the way to a four-RBI performance that had to be heartening for the veteran second baseman and the team that released Bill Ripken to make room for him in the starting lineup.
* Shortstop Cal Ripken went deep in his second plate appearance of the game, perhaps signaling a new beginning after a difficult season in 1992.
* First baseman David Segui and outfield candidates Sherman Obando and Jack Voigt each cleared the fence in the course of an offensive free-for-all that featured a two-team total of 17 runs and 24 hits.
The wind was blowing out, indeed, but no one was discounting the strong hitting performance by a club that figured to need an offensive boost to get over the top in the American League East. Even the pitchers who took their lumps throughout the afternoon were happy to see it.
"I love seeing that," said veteran Rick Sutcliffe, who pitched two innings and gave up two runs. "I'll figure out a way to keep people from scoring. I love seeing the offense ready this early."
The Orioles are expected to pack a little more punch this year. The addition of Reynolds adds speed to the lineup. The acquisition of Harold Baines provides a balance of power that could make life easier at the top of the batting order. The club also is counting on the resurgences of Ripken and first baseman Glenn Davis in its effort to overtake the defending World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays.
The health of Hoiles also is an important factor. He hit 20 home runs last year despite the wrist fracture he suffered when hit by a pitch in June. The break did not heal properly, so Hoiles underwent extensive surgery to reconstruct the wrist bone.
Club officials insisted all winter that they were confident of his complete recovery, but they had to be relieved to see him display that kind of strength this early in spring training.
"I've been watching him all week, and he's fine," manager Johnny Oates said. "Swinging the bat is no problem."
Hoiles has been out of a cast for about three months, but he also had expressed confidence that he would be ready to play regularly when the Orioles open the exhibition season tomorrow against the Pittsburgh Pirates in nearby Bradenton. Still, it was .. good to get that first big swing out of the way.
"It felt good just to see it go out," Hoiles said. "Everything is going pretty good right now."
The Orioles don't expect Reynolds to add a lot of power to the lineup, but he took advantage of the inclement conditions to loft one over the left-center-field fence. He also singled, walked and drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.
"I wanted to go out and make an impression on my new teammates," Reynolds said, "but I didn't expect to go out of the ballpark."
Reynolds seemed to fall out of favor with the Seattle Mariners last year, so he is eager to re-establish himself as an All-Star-caliber second baseman. To that end, he says he has undergone an attitude adjustment this spring.
"I usually play pretty well in spring training," he said, "but the last couple of springs, I had the wrong perspective. I didn't play like it was a game. I played like I was trying to get ready for April. I had always played before like I was trying to make the team. That's what I'm going back to."
Ripken's big swing should come as no surprise. He has been one of the big hitters of spring in each of the past two seasons, and he spent more time with the bat this winter than he did after his MVP season a year ago. He is trying to bounce back from a season in which he was wracked by injuries, and he got off to a good start.
The young outfield candidates were all over the place. Voigt and Obando homered, and top prospects Damon Buford and Jeffrey Hammonds turned in a multiple-hit performances. Buford had two hits and an RBI. Hammonds had two hits, two RBI and scored three runs. It was a good day for the Orioles' youth movement, especially when a three-hit performance by Segui is factored in.
But there was a flip side to all this offensive largess. Eight of the 10 pitchers who took the mound gave up at least one earned run. Sutcliffe and Rhodes, the two starters, gave up two runs apiece. Left-hander Jamie Moyer surrendered three runs in his first competitive appearance as an Oriole. Alan Mills gave up some long balls on the way to a three-run performance. Minor-league prospect Todd Stephan had the toughest time, giving up five runs on seven hits over two innings to take the loss.
Fortunately, the young pitchers had veteran Sutcliffe around to put the best possible face on an ugly afternoon.
"To have the offense swinging like that this early in spring is a nice sign," Sutcliffe said. "We've got a lot of weapons offensively that we can throw at people."
Oates probably agreed, but he wasn't about to let his right-hander off that easily.
"Sounds like a guy who gave up a couple of runs to me," he said.