Obando appears in, Mercedes out as Oates tries to make O's cut above Spring Training

MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICE

March 30, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Right-field candidate Luis Mercedes hit his first home run of the exhibition season yesterday. So did Rule V draftee Sherman Obando. But one of them already may be out of the running for a place on the Orioles' 25-man roster.

Manager Johnny Oates met with club officials to discuss the makeup of the team before yesterday's 11-5 exhibition victory over the Texas Rangers. No decisions were announced, but Oates indicated that most of them already have been made.

"I have an idea of what I want," he said, "but it's not for publication yet."

The roster situation may become clearer before the Orioles break camp in St. Petersburg on Thursday. The club is expected to come north with no more than 27 players for the weekend exhibition games at Camden Yards and RFK Stadium.

Who will stay and who will go? The basic questions have not changed since the opening of spring training. Who will play right field? Who will be the fifth starter? And who will be the backup catcher? None presents any easy answers for Oates and the Orioles' braintrust.

The right-field situation has been particularly difficult to evaluate, because no one really asserted himself during the first three weeks of the exhibition season. The only outfielder in camp who has been ruled out is No. 1 draft choice Jeffrey Hammonds, and only because club officials are determined not to rush him to the major leagues.

Obando has the highest batting average of the remaining right-handed candidates (.296) and appears to have the most promise. If he makes the club, he has a chance to start on Opening Day against the Rangers. If he doesn't make the club, he'll have to be offered back to the New York Yankees to satisfy the provisions of the Rule V draft.

Mercedes arrived in spring training as one of the leading candidates to share playing time with Chito Martinez in right field, but the team is making an effort to trade him by Opening Day. He is not going back to the minor leagues, but he may not be going back to Baltimore, either.

Minor-league outfielder Jack Voigt has impressed Oates with his solid defensive play, but he has not been particularly impressive at the plate (.185, one homer, four RBI).

The Opening Day lineup remains in question for one other reason TTC -- the Rangers do not know who their Opening Day pitcher will be. If it is Kevin Brown as originally scheduled, it seems likely Martinez would start in right field. If it is left-hander Craig Lefferts, the Opening Day right fielder could be any of a number of possibilities, including switch-hitting utility man Mark McLemore and reserve first baseman David Segui.

The identity of the fifth starter also has been determined, though that is another announcement that Oates figures to save until the last minute. Left-hander Fernando Valenzuela seems like the most logical choice because he has not been scored upon this spring and because right-hander Mark Williamson can be used in a relief role early on.

Both can make the club if Oates decides to go with 11 pitchers or chooses to send left-hander Brad Pennington back to the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings.

The size of the pitching staff will not affect Oates' plans for the first month of the season. He said yesterday he will not go with a regular fifth starter until he can do so without disrupting the routine of his first four.

"If you do that, you end up with Ben McDonald pitching on nine days' rest once and [Rick] Sutcliffe working on six or seven," Oates said. "It's a lot easier to mess with just one guy than to mess with all five."

That philosophy could work in favor of Valenzuela, who has shown in the past week that he can be effective on an irregular work schedule. Williamson has shown he can pitch in the rotation, but he also could be a valuable member of the bullpen.

The two candidates for the backup job behind the plate did not make it easy on Oates. Mark Parent is batting .318 and playing well behind the plate. Jeff Tackett is batting .300 and already has put in a year backing up Chris Hoiles.

Tackett, 27, probably will win the job, because he hasn't done anything to lose it. Parent has earned a place in the major leagues, but the Orioles probably will allow him to seek a big-league job elsewhere. He has little to gain by going back to Rochester at the age of 31.

The Orioles could benefit from keeping both in the organization, but club officials apparently have assured Parent that he will not be buried in the minor leagues at this pivotal juncture in his career. If he can find a big-league job, he almost certainly will get his unconditional release. If not, he will have a place to play until something comes along.

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