Jays give recast lineup first test

March 04, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

SARASOTA, Fla. -- New Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro is not a cold-weather kind of guy. But he didn't flinch yesterday when someone informed him that there were several inches of snow covering first base at Camden Yards.

"Well, somebody better take a shovel and get it off of there," he said, "because we'll be there soon."

The 1994 season still is a month away, but the new-look Orioles lineup assembled in a competitive setting for the first time today, traveling to Dunedin, Fla., to open the Grapefruit League season against the defending champion Toronto Blue Jays.

The game itself isn't particularly meaningful, but it was to provide Orioles fans with their first glimpse of what's to come when the regular season opens at Oriole Park a month from today.

Palmeiro was be at first base. Chris Sabo was at third. The new outfield alignment -- Jeffrey Hammonds in left, Brady Anderson in center, Mike Devereaux in right -- was put on display for the first time against another major-league club.

There was some simulated competition yesterday. The club played an intrasquad game at Twin Lakes Park, braving gusting winds to put in seven innings and give a couple of the newest Orioles a chance to make a good preliminary impression. Palmeiro hit a long home run in his first at-bat and catcher Rich Gedman hit a two-run shot later in the afternoon. Left-hander Sid Fernandez debuted with two hitless innings.

It didn't count, but it only added to the enthusiasm that appears to be building in the Orioles clubhouse.

"Spring training is important," Palmeiro said, "but I'm anxious to get going with the season."

All in good time.

Manager Johnny Oates has been impressed with the way the players have gone about their fundamental preparation this year, and pitching coach Dick Bosman has been pleased with the overall physical conditioning of the pitching staff, but there still is much to do. The exhibition season is important to the creation of a good team chemistry.

That's why Oates is very likely to put his projected starting lineup on the field as often as possible, particularly an infield alignment that has only one member (Cal Ripken) returning from last year.

"I want to play those guys together as much as possible," Oates said.

The only member of the projected lineup who did not accompany the team to Dunedin today is designated hitter Harold Baines, who did too much too soon last spring and obviously doesn't want to make the same mistake just five months after undergoing surgery on his left knee.

Right-handed reliever Alan Mills was to start the exhibition opener today against Blue Jays ace Juan Guzman, then the Orioles will move right into a five-man starting rotation that begins tomorrow with possible Opening Day starter Mike Mussina.

The makeup of the rotation does not appear to be in doubt, but the Orioles do have some decisions to make in the bullpen, where there are several candidates for the one or two jobs that are up for grabs.

That is a nice problem to have, especially with the number of experienced pitchers and the apparent absence of serious physical questions.

"I'm very happy with the whole bunch of them," Bosman said. "They showed up prepared. They've gone through this part of spring training with great enthusiasm.

"Up to this point, it's just been a matter of conditioning. Beginning tomorrow, we start laying down a little more individual game plan. We have 30 days to fine-tune things."

Thirty days until they open the gates at Camden Yards. Thirty days until the Orioles embark on their most promising season in a decade. Thirty very important days.

"I'm ready," said Ben McDonald, who will make his first appearance Monday. "I'll be glad to get out of here [Sarasota] and get it going. We're getting our legs under us."

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