Johnson takes 2nd cut at comments about Sabo

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

March 15, 1994|By Jim Henneman and Peter Schmuck | Jim Henneman and Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writers

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA — ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- When Cincinnati failed to re-sign Chris Sabo last winter, Davey Johnson was quoted as saying the third baseman's skills "have deteriorated."

Last night, before an exhibition game against the Orioles, the Reds manager tried to explain what he meant by the comment.

"What I said was that he wasn't the aggressive runner and base stealer he was five or six years ago," said Johnson.

"But that's natural when you get older, you can't help it. His home runs were still there, and he was one of the best in the league defensively, but I didn't see the doubles like before."

Sabo, who is 32 years old, had 21 home runs and 33 doubles last year. As a rookie in 1988, he hit a career-high 40 doubles and stole 46 bases.

Knee (1989) and ankle (1992) problems subsequently curtailed his running ability and he's had only 10 stolen bases in the past two years. However, he hit 25 home runs in 1990 and 26 in 1991. Only twice has he failed to hit at least 33 doubles, in 1989 (when he had 21 in 82 games) and 1992 (19 in 96 games).

Sabo said he was initially stung by Johnson's comments, but now says he thinks they were made to appease the ticket buyers in Cincinnati. "I'll take my numbers this year and put them up against whatever they [the Reds] have and see how it works out," he said.

Baines hits first homer

Designated hitter Harold Baines hit his first home run of the exhibition season in the third inning of last night's game, drilling a line drive over the 388 sign in right-center off Cincinnati starter Brian Holman.

It wasn't the hardest-hit ball of the night, though. First baseman Rafael Palmeiro hit a foul ball down the right-field line that nearly reached the valet area in front of the Hilton Hotel across the street from the stadium.

Cook impressive

Right-hander Mike Cook continues to pitch impressively. He came into last night's game with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth and got out of the jam with a strikeout and a ground ball. The next inning, he got out of his own jam when he barehanded a ground ball and turned a flashy double play.

Moves imminent

Orioles manager Johnny Oates met with his staff yesterday but said no roster moves would take place until the end of the week.

"We've got two games Friday [when the squad will be split for games against Minnesota and Cleveland] and we'll need everybody until after we play those games," said Oates. "It [the meeting] was just a preliminary thing. We talked about some of the things we'll be doing."

Final cuts in April

Oates indicated that the last two or three squad cuts won't be made until after the club returns to Baltimore on April 1.

One of the decisions Oates has to make is whether he'll carry three catchers. Jeff Tackett is the incumbent backup to regular Chris Hoiles, with veteran free agent Rich Gedman also in the picture. The fact that Gedman is a left-handed hitter (Hoiles and Tackett are both right-handed) works in his favor.

If Oates decides to keep an extra catcher, Gedman will make the team, otherwise he'll have to beat out Tackett, a possibility Oates wouldn't discount.

Valenzuela update

Dick Moss, who helps represent Fernando Valenzuela, stopped by the Orioles complex yesterday for a short meeting with Roland Hemond.

Valenzuela, who won eight games for the Orioles after a surprise signing last spring, has signed a contract with Jalisco of the Mexican League, but Moss said yesterday that the contract includes a provision that will allow the veteran left-hander to join a major-league club at any time during the 1994 season.

"I fully expect him to be pitching in the major leagues this year," said Moss. "Frankly, I was shocked that there was not anything out there for him."

The Orioles are not eligible to re-sign Valenzuela until May 1, but Hemond has not ruled out the possibility of a return engagement if a need arises.

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