Unknown, not inconspicuous Jennings is latest unknown to show his clout for Orioles SPRING TRAINING

March 10, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- It is a time for unfamiliar faces. Reserve infield candidate Doug Jennings hit two home runs in his first exhibition start for the Orioles yesterday, joining a growing list of relative unknowns who have been making their presence felt this spring.

It just as easily could have been first-round draft choice Jeffrey Hammonds or fellow outfield prospect Damon Buford. It could have been pitching prospects John O'Donoghue or Brad Pennington. They have made themselves conspicuous during the first week of the exhibition season.

The Orioles might look a lot like the team that finished seven games back in the American League East last year, but that is before you scratch the surface.

"When we left camp last year, I didn't feel like we left a whole lot behind," veteran pitcher Rick Sutcliffe said. "I didn't see a whole lot of help back there [in the minor leagues]. Everybody saw Arthur [Rhodes], but he was supposed to be back there the whole year. It's nice to see some of the young guys come along and push us old guys."

Jennings tried to push Sutcliffe to his first exhibition victory with bases-empty home runs in the second inning and the sixth, but the Orioles came from ahead to drop a 7-6 decision to the Philadelphia Phillies at Jack Russell Stadium. No matter. The final score of the fifth game of the preseason will not be remembered a month from now, but the depth that is discovered here in Florida could have a significant impact on the team.

Of course, the addition of veterans Harold Baines and Harold Reynolds didn't hurt. The Orioles' starting lineup figures to be much more solid than it was a year ago. The staying power of the club, however, could rest with the players who stand in reserve.

"I think we do have -- in certain areas -- more depth," manager Johnny Oates said. "There still are areas that we need help in, but a lot of our younger players have come on strong."

Jennings is a good example. He isn't projected to be a front-line player this year, but his performance yesterday had to be comforting to a manager who doesn't know if his first-string first baseman (Glenn Davis) will be able to play regularly. He not only hit the two homers, but he also made a couple of flashy plays on defense to keep things under control in the early innings.

"It was the kind of day you dream of having in spring training," said Jennings, whose professional career made stops in the California Angels and Oakland Athletics organizations before he signed a Rochester contract last year. "I got a lot of pitches to hit, and I put them in play hard."

His timing was perfect. There are so many young players with a chance to move up in the manager's estimation that every exhibition game is important. Jennings doesn't figure to start at first more than a handful of times this spring, but he made certain that he'll be remembered the next time Oates needs someone to spell David Segui.

"My objective is, when I get a chance, to do the best I can," Jennings said. "I think today is an example of what I'm capable of doing. From there, it's up to the staff and the management to make the decisions."

Jennings, 28, is just one of a large group of unestablished players who could show up in the majors during the season. He even could show up there on Opening Day, though it seems unlikely that the club will have room for him.

"He has an opportunity," Oates said. "He has a chance to make this ballclub. There are about six guys you can throw a blanket over."

Hammonds has been given a chance to make the club, though it seems more likely that he will spend the season at Double-A or Triple-A. Utility outfielder Jack Voigt has made a good impression. So has Rule V draftee Sherman Obando. Their chances might have improved slightly yesterday when right fielder Luis Mercedes suffered an ankle sprain that will keep him out of the hunt for at least the next week.

The club also has more pitching to work with than a year ago. Right-hander Mike Cook has been impressive during the early stages of spring training, even if he came up on the losing end of yesterday's game. He struck out the side in his first inning of work, but took the loss when he hit a batter in the 10th inning and gave up a run-scoring double to former Orioles prospect Juan Bell.

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