ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Johnny Oates knew it would be ugly, and he was right.
The Orioles manager dreaded what he had to face yesterday. Early in the day, he told pitcher Anthony Telford and outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds they would go to the minor-league complex for reassignment.
But neither of those moves was unexpected -- leaving the tough stuff for later, after a 5-2 exhibition win over the St. Louis Cardinals. That's when Oates informed lefthanded reliever Brad Pennington and outfielders Jack Voigt and Mark Leonard they would not be going to Baltimore.
Pennington's status opened the door for Fernando Valenzuela, who faces the Toronto Blue Jays today, to make the 10-man pitching staff. That formality will be taken care of over the weekend in Baltimore.
The departures of Voigt and Leonard, obtained less than two weeks ago from the San Francisco Giants, leaves Chito Martinez, Luis Mercedes and Sherman Obando to divide playing time in right field. "Chito will play against right-handers, Luis will play against some left-handers and I'll pick my spots with Sherman," said Oates.
Mercedes had seemed to have fallen out of favor with some club officials, because of his erratic base running and shaky outfield play. The Orioles protected him in the expansion draft last November but tried to trade him this spring.
Oates cited Mercedes' .309 average as a professional in explaining his decision.
"We've invested a lot in him," Oates said. "We've invested time, we've invested money, we've invested man hours. And the guy's never been given a chance to play in the major leagues. I'm willing to take him to find out if he can play before we give him away.
"I was the one who initiated it. I'd feel pretty bad if he ended up going to Cleveland hitting .330 and doing an average job in the outfield for them. Let's make sure he can't do it here before we let him do something for somebody else."
But the most important thing for Oates yesterday wasn't who made the team, but who was being left behind. And he made it very clear the most difficult cut of all was Pennington. Oates said later it was "the toughest day I've ever spent in baseball."
Oates said yesterday the business of cutting players almost drove him out of the game long before he became a major-league manager. "I told Brad that this was the reason I almost quit eight years ago," he said.
"I've been through a lot of these, and this was one of the toughest," said general manager Roland Hemond. "I have a lot of respect for Johnny because he has so much feeling for the players.
"But," said Hemond, "we know that young guy [Pennington] is going to come back and help our ballclub. That's the consolation we have -- but it's hard to understand that when you're on the other end.
"As an organization, we can look at this and see it is the best thing, because he [Pennington] could just sit around early in the season, and then not be ready," said Hemond.
Yesterday's moves left the Orioles with 26 players in camp. The only decision remaining is whether Jeff Tackett or Mark Parent makes the club as the backup to starting catcher Chris Hoiles.
Oates said yesterday that nothing has happened to make that decision any easier. "Those two guys are as close now as they've ever been," Oates said.
It was a three-run homer by Parent that decided yesterday's game against the Cardinals. He also had a single and is batting .360 (9-for-25) this spring. Tackett is hitting .300 (6-for-20).
"I want whichever one of those guys who doesn't make our team to catch in the big leagues," said Oates. "But we have to get some depth back. I have to look out for the Orioles.
"We've sent more players back to the minor leagues this year than in any of the six years since I've been back with the Orioles," said Oates. "We've been trying to build up some depth, and I think we have.
"But we can't have depth if we just give a player away. I want both of those guys [Tackett and Parent] to play in the big leagues this year, but if we let one go, we've got to get something back," said Oates.
The manager also was high in his praise of Voigt, whose versatility almost won him a job. "He did everything anybody could do."
Said Voigt: "I think I proved to them that I can play in the big leagues. As I was going out the door, I told Johnny, 'I'll be back,' and he said, 'I know you will.' "
As for Leonard -- who had two hits yesterday, but was hitless in his first 13 at-bats -- Oates said, "He's got a good swing, but I don't think he got it going the way he can. He gives us another option at Rochester.
"I'm happy with the 26 players we're taking to Baltimore, and I'm encouraged by what we're leaving behind," Oates said.
In tomorrow's special section on the 1993 baseball season, The Baltimore Sun will look at how three young starting pitchers -- Mike Mussina, Ben McDonald and Arthur Rhodes -- are brightening the Orioles' future.
Also, there will be capsule profiles of all the Orioles, team-by-team previews of both leagues, schedules for every major-league team, an update on ticket availability, an early look at this year's July 13 All-Star Game at Camden Yards, and much more.