FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Alan Mills will make his third start of the spring Sunday afternoon against the Phillies, but manager Johnny Oates continues to insist there is no significance to the assignment.
Mills, who pitched five innings in two previous starts against the Toronto Blue Jays, has been used almost exclusively as a reliever in his two years with the Orioles. But there has been some speculation that he could step into a starter's role if an opening developed in the rotation.
Oates said he felt Mills could do that job if asked, but said his starting roles in the exhibition season have been by chance. "If Sid [Fernandez] had taken his regular turn, Alan wouldn't be starting," said Oates.
Fernandez developed what was termed a slight case of biceps tendinitis and didn't make his first appearance for the Orioles until last night. "It doesn't matter how Alan pitches, he needs to stretch out for three, four or five innings," said Oates.
Oates also noted that while Mills will be making his third start, he's been working on the same schedule as the rest of the relievers, pitching every fourth day rather than every fifth day as the starters are doing.
"I think Alan could handle any job we gave him," said Oates, who is on record as saying the right-hander is too valuable in his role as a reliever to move into the rotation. "He's done well whenever I've used him."
Eyes on Ochoa
The Orioles will split their squads today for games against the Dodgers in Vero Beach and the Marlins in Homestead. The big attraction in the latter game is not one of the Orioles' marquee names, but rookie outfielder Alex Ochoa, who played last year for Single-A Frederick.
Ochoa is from the Miami area and had a substantial contingent on hand for last night's game here against the Yankees. "As soon as that game [in Homestead] was announced, Ochoa was the first player they asked for," said Oates.
Ochoa, who turns 21 on March 29 and might have the strongest outfield throwing arm in baseball, was the subject of a pre-game discussion last night.
Oates was asked how long it's been since he's seen someone with Ochoa's arm strength. "We [he and his coaching staff] were talking about that the other day and we couldn't think of anybody [currently]in the American League in that range," said Oates.
"I remember people talking about how [Jesse] Barfield and Ellis Valentine [who later briefly tried to pitch] had real good arms. Mark Whiten [formerly with the Blue Jays and Indians and now with the Cardinals] also comes to mind. But right now I don't know if there's anybody with a stronger arm [than Ochoa].
Out in full force
Because of the split-squad games today, the Orioles had their full spring camp contingent in uniform last night. It looked like a miniature army.
"I was kidding with Buck [Yankees manager Buck Showalter] and asked him if he wanted to fight," quipped Oates. Including the full coaching and medical staff the Orioles had a total of 71 people in their clubhouse last night.
The group that makes the trip to Homestead this morning will return to St. Petersburg after the game and work out there tomorrow. The rest of the squad goes to Viera to play the Marlins.
Elrod Hendricks will manage the team in Homestead, with Don Buford and (minor-league instructor) Carlos Bernhardt coaching third and first base. Minor-league coach Tom Brown will oversee the pitchers.
John O'Donoghue, who has pitched four scoreless innings in two spring appearances, Mike Oquist and Brad Pennington are the Orioles' scheduled pitchers this afternoon in Homestead.
Jamie Moyer, Mark Eichhorn and Lee Smith were on tap to face the Dodgers. Ben McDonald and Mark Williamson are two of the pitchers who will face the Marlins on Saturday.
Alexander due back
Manny Alexander, who had a cyst removed from his left thigh the first week of training camp, went to Baltimore for more tests and is due back today. The rookie shortstop did not play in any of the Orioles' first seven games or in either of the two squad games.
General manager Roland Hemond said last night that he expected to know more about Alexander's condition today, but admitted that he might be sidelined for most of training camp.