Smith impresses Oates in hurry

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

February 21, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

SARASOTA, FLA — SARASOTA, Fla. -- Manager Johnny Oates met yesterday morning with reliever Lee Smith, and they already have reached a meeting of the minds on the new closer's pitching regimen this season.

"I'm very impressed with Lee and his attitude," Oates said. "We had a get-together today and I'm very impressed with the whole show. He's going to play an important part in any success we have this year . . . and he's off to a good start."

Oates apparently will use Smith in much the same way he used former Orioles closer Gregg Olson, limiting him to the ninth inning except in rare situations. Smith apparently expressed no reservations about pitching as many as three games in a row.

"When we talked about that, he smiled real big," said Oates, who had to guard against overworking Olson. "Hopefully, he'll save 45 to 50 games for us this year."

Smith wowed his new teammates with yesterday's workout, which left room to wonder about the legitimacy of 1993 reports that his velocity had begun to decline.

The bullpen appears to be much deeper than it was a year ago, which could force some difficult decisions during the final days of spring training. The addition of Mark Eichhorn could force Oates to decide among Todd Frohwirth, Mark Williamson and Brad Pennington for the 10th place on the pitching staff.

"I think this is the deepest bullpen I've had here," Oates said. "There is a great deal of experience and versatility, but I think before the season begins we'll have the roles defined."

Olson vs. Smith

Oates was not going to get trapped into giving an opinion on whether the Orioles are better off with Smith in place of Olson. Both, he said, have their strong points.

"Olson had more saves than anybody at his age and Smitty has more saves than anybody, period," Oates said. "Oly is younger, but Smitty is wiser."

Slowing down

There have been a few wisecracks about the deliberate wathat Smith goes about his business, but the Orioles have asked reliever Alan Mills to take notes.

"Alan will throw about 735,000 pitches in a 15-minute workout," Oates said. "That's got to wear him out. Hey, that's got to wear the catcher out. We'd like to see him pace himself a little bit."

Land baron

Right-hander Ben McDonald has expanded his real estate holdings over the past year. He bought a 180-acre spread near Natchez, Miss., four years ago and recently added 550 acres nearby. The land is used as a preserve, where McDonald spends part of each off-season fishing and hunting deer.

Before he's through, he hopes to connect his two plots of land to form a single area of more than 1,000 acres.

Benitez makes debut

Promising reliever Armando Benitez worked out for the first time yesterday, but he did not overdo it. The club knows he has a flashy arm that could fit into its bullpen in a year or two, but he is not going to be rushed.

"In my mind, he might be a guy who plays half a season at Frederick and half at Bowie," assistant general manager Doug Melvin said. "You occasionally see a guy move right up, but it's tough for a young short reliever to make a big jump like that. Look at [the White Sox's] Roberto Hernandez. He took about six years to get here."

Summer-league problem

Speaking of the Chicago White Sox, Melvin visited their facility yesterday to discuss the future of the club's joint Dominican Summer League program. The two clubs annually send 15 players each to the summer league, but the White Sox have decided to withdraw.

"I just went to see if there were any players they wanted to provide," Melvin said. "We'll probably end up sharing a team with somebody else. We've heard the Giants and Angels might be interested."

Big boys

The Orioles will not have to grope for an answer the next time someone asks, "Where's the beef?" The average weight of Orioles pitchers in camp is 219 pounds.

To their health

Oates has been impressed with the general conditioning of his pitching staff. Several pitchers, including Smith, have thrown each of the past three days.

"We've had nothing more than the normal soreness," Oates said. "We had a lot of volunteers to throw three days in a row. That's 10 minutes, 15 and 15. That means those guys came in in pretty good shape."

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