Exhibition or not, Oates is taking notes

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

March 07, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

ST.PETERSBURG, FLA — ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Johnny Oates made sure he kept everything in perspective here yesterday -- but he emphasized that these early exhibition games are not completely meaningless. Won-lost records in the spring mean nothing when the season starts, but performances that influence the final result are scrutinized.

"We're only three games into spring training, so let's not get excited," the manager said after the Orioles lost their third straight, 8-3 to sandwich the St. Louis Cardinals. "But I'm watching. I'm not ignoring what's happening.

"I'd like to be able to ignore the first 18 games last year [when the Orioles started 5-13], but I can't," said Oates. "It's history."

On the surface, the Orioles have done the job offensively in their three losses, with 36 hits and a .310 team batting average. But those numbers are misleading, having produced only 13 runs.

There already have been three instances of failing to score a runner from third base with less than two outs (twice with nobody out). One of last year's deficiencies was what Oates refers to as poor situational hitting. It's something he would like to see rectified now.

"That's part of execution, and we're not executing right now," said Oates. The Orioles scored three times in the first inning against ex-teammate Rick Sutcliffe yesterday -- and then were shut out the rest of the way.

"We're trying to hit home runs, and that's not good hitting," said Oates. "That doesn't happen to good teams."

Williamson escapes

Mark Williamson was the only one of four Orioles pitchers to escape without giving up a run yesterday -- but only because he made a couple of unusual defensive plays.

Twice he deflected hard grounders through the middle. Both times his glove was knocked off his hand and McLemore went behind second base to make exceptional plays.

"I'm working on my defense," Williamson said. "Every time I pitch here [Al Lang Field] I feel like a bull's-eye. Last year, I got hit twice [by line drives]."

His deflections yesterday helped save a couple runs for the Cardinals, and McLemore saved another run with a diving catch in shallow right field to end the fifth inning. McLemore's defense at second base has been one of the Orioles' few bright spots in the first three games.

Devereaux, Baines out

Neither Mike Devereaux nor Harold Baines was in the lineup for the Orioles yesterday, and they also will miss today's game against the Phillies. Oates is letting Baines set his own pace in spring training, as he did a year ago, and doesn't think there's any need to rush Devereaux, who required a dozen stitches to repair two facial cuts suffered when he ran into a chain-link fence in Friday's opening exhibition game.

"When Harold tells me he's ready to run the bases, he'll play -- unless we're playing a National League team," said Oates. "I really haven't spent that much time with him, because he's been working out at the complex. But the coaches tell me he's far ahead of last year in terms of hitting the ball. But he hasn't done any running yet, and I'm not going to play him until he has."

In addition to Devereaux and Baines, Cal Ripken, Rafael Palmeiro and Chris Hoiles were not scheduled to make the trip to Clearwater for today's game against the Phillies.

A win of sorts

The Orioles did manage to get into the win column yesterday, but it came in an unofficial morning "B" game -- a 3-2 win over the Cardinals. Rick Forney, Rick Krivda, Armando Benitez and Steve Chitren each pitched two innings, allowing five hits in the eight-inning contest.

Forney, a right-hander from Annapolis High, was the game's most effective pitcher, striking out four without giving up a hit in two innings. "He threw the ball very well; they [the Cardinals] had some bad swings against him," said Oates.

Krivda also pitched two scoreless innings without allowing a hit, walking two and striking out two. "He pitched behind in the count a lot, but then he'd come back and paint the black [edge of the plate] with three in a row," said Oates. "We told him he didn't have to go 2-and-0 on everybody."

Benitez, the Orioles' minor-league Pitcher of the Year last season, gave up a home run to Phil Stephenson, but otherwise was impressive with his velocity.

The defensive play of the game was turned in by right fielder Alex Ochoa, who threw out the potential tying run at home in the last inning. "We finally got him straightened out," Oates said. "We told him to throw the ball in the air."

On Saturday, Ochoa unleashed a throw that skipped twice and handcuffed third baseman Terry Jorgensen. He did the same thing again during pre-game practice yesterday.

Alexander agrees to terms

Rookie shortstop Manny Alexander agreed to terms yesterday, leaving pitchers Mike Mussina and Arthur Rhodes unsigned.

If they haven't signed by Friday, the Orioles automatically can renew their contracts. In such cases, the club sets the salary at whatever figure it desires -- usually the latest offer -- as long as it calls for at least the minimum ($109,000) or no more than a 20 percent cut from last year.

Moyer struggles in first start

Left-hander Jamie Moyer gave up four runs on six hits over three innings to take the loss yesterday, then gave his performance a mixed review.

"It was so-so," he said. "I did some things I wanted to do and I did some things I didn't want to do. I really didn't have any expectations. I set out to re-acclimate myself to game situations."

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