Oates: Newcomers are fundamental pleasure


February 28, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

SARASOTA, FLA — SARASOTA, Fla. -- For Orioles manager Johnny Oates, the most important issue of the early stage of training camp has been resolved.

And, no, it has nothing to do with who plays center field or wears No. 88. Those were sidelights -- one serious, one humorous -- to the more pressing question: How would the six veteran free-agent acquisitions fit into the Orioles' program?

It is not unusual for players from other organizations to have difficulty adjusting when they change teams. There are often slight fundamental differences from one organization to another, but nobody in camp has yet missed a step.

With four days left before the Orioles conclude the first phase of training and move to St. Petersburg to start the exhibition season, Oates said this year's camp has exceeded his expectations.

"We have everything scripted for the first 14 days," said Oates. "During that period of time we go over every major thing we want to cover. And I think we've made fewer mistakes than in either of the other two years [he has been in charge of spring training].

"I'm very pleased with our fundamentals. You can tell we've made fewer mistakes by the length of our workouts. We've been out here between 3 1/2 and four hours each day -- and we schedule fundamentals each day to last a half-hour, or until we get it right.

"I haven't lost my temper once yet," said Oates, who had a couple blowups last spring. "I haven't had to scream 'either do it right or don't do it at all.' Last year I had to pull them off the field once because we weren't getting it right."

Oates attributes the smoothness with which the camp has run so far to the easy transition of the newcomers, Rafael Palmeiro, Sid Fernandez, Chris Sabo, Rich Gedman, Mark Eichhorn and Lee Smith. "[They] are six experienced big-league players," he said. "They have fit right into the program. You tell them once and it's done."

zTC In addition to those six, infielders Terry Jorgensen and Rene Gonzales, who is familiar with the Orioles' program from an earlier stint, and outfielder Lonnie Smith, who was with the club late last year, are other veteran free agents who have blended in.

"I'm excited with what I've seen so far," said Oates.

Fernandez, Mussina heat up

Fernandez and Mike Mussina drew some attention yesterday, when they were among the dozen pitchers who threw 15 minutes of batting practice. Fernandez, who has a reputation of not being impressive during workouts, appeared to turn it up a notch during his second BP session of the spring.

"More chopsticks for the restaurant," someone quipped when Leo Gomez's bat was shattered by an inside fastball thrown by Fernandez. It was one of many feeble swings against the left-hander.

On an adjacent field, Mussina was throwing at the same time and impressed both Sabo, who was hitting against him, and Gedman, who was catching. "He threw the ball good," said Sabo, one of the few hitters in camp who doesn't seem to mind hitting against a pitcher's best stuff. "He has good velocity and movement."

From his position, Gedman had the best view of Mussina. "It looks like he pretty much does whatever he wants," said the former All-Star catcher with the Boston Red Sox. "He moves the ball around, up and down, and changes speeds. When you do that, you can do pretty much whatever you want."

Most encouraging for the Orioles is that Mussina is throwing the same as he did the past two springs, with no apparent ill effects from the shoulder injury that sidelined him last summer.

Alexander at second?

Rookie shortstop Manny Alexander, who most likely will play another year with Triple-A Rochester, is doing some work at second base with instruction from coach Davey Lopes. It is a continuation of a practice started late last spring.

"He told Doug [assistant general manager Doug Melvin] he was willing to do it," said Oates. "If he wants to work there, we've got to be willing to let him try it."

DuBois continues comeback

Brian DuBois, the non-roster left-hander who has twice undergone surgery since being reclaimed by the Orioles in 1990, continues to impress the staff with his progress. He is a long shot to make the major-league roster, but has moved back into the prime prospect category.

"I'd say he's about three or four miles an hour shorter [slower] than before he was hurt," said minor-league pitching coach Tom Brown. "But he's pain-free and continuing to improve."

Brown was DuBois' pitching coach in Hagerstown in 1988 and 1989, when DuBois was traded to the Detroit Tigers for Keith Moreland in a late-season deal. Even though they knew he was injured, the Orioles decided to gamble on DuBois when the Tigers put him on waivers at the end of the 1990 season.

DuBois was sidelined for two years before coming back last year. He was a combined 12-3 at Single-A Frederick and #F Double-A Bowie before going 0-2 in three starts for Rochester.

"He had run out of gas by then," said Brown. "At that point, the season had gotten too long for him."

DuBois will be 27 on April 18, so this figures to be a pivotal season.

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