'Other' Smith is swinging into view with .471 spring

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

March 16, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA — ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Mark Smith undoubtedly is the spring's least noticed .471 hitter. He's one of several impressive, but generally overlooked, rookies on the Orioles' roster.

A No. 1 draft choice in 1991 (the ninth player selected overall), Mark is easily the least known of the three Smiths in the Orioles camp (Lee is the new closer and Lonnie is bidding for an outfield job). But manager Johnny Oates insists that the 23-year-old outfielder has not been overlooked by the organization.

"He's a guy we've talked about a lot in our meetings," said Oates. "Our minor-league people, especially [Rochester manager] Bob Miscik and [outfielder instructor] Reid Nichols, say he has made as much progress the last few years as anyone in the organization.

"When we talked about extra outfielders, about what we might do if Jeffrey [Hammonds] wasn't completely healthy, Miscik and Nichols both said, 'Don't forget Mark Smith,' " said Oates.

In his eight games this spring, Smith has done nothing to dispel their faith. Yesterday, his two-run triple sparked a tying four-run rally in the ninth inning and his 10th-inning double set up the game-winner as the Orioles beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 7-6. With those two hits, Smith is 8-for-17 (.471), with half his hits (three doubles, one triple) for extra bases.

"He's got a short stroke, he's on top of the plate, and he's a pretty selective hitter," said Oates. "He doesn't try to pull everything."

Defensively, Smith is not likely to win any Gold Gloves, but neither has he given any indication of being a liability.

"He doesn't have Alex Ochoa's arm or speed," said Oates, "but he catches everything he gets to and throws it to the right places. I feel very comfortable with him out there."

Smith came into camp knowing he faced staggering odds.

"They have their lineup set," said the muscular right-handed hitter, who hit .280 with Triple-A Rochester last year. "But everybody [in the minor leagues] is trying to get to the big leagues.

"I came in hoping to show them that if something happened and they needed somebody, that I could come up and do the job. If you're going to get to the big leagues, you have to impress the people above to get there.

"All I'm trying to do is get myself ready for the season."

Way to go, kids

The Orioles have lost a lot of games this spring with their young players on the field, but Oates is quick to point out that three of the four wins also have come while the kids were playing.

"These guys have done a good job, they've scored runs," Oates said. "We just haven't been able to shut anybody down."

Not all of the contributors yesterday were youngsters. Tim Hulett had two hits and drove in the tying run in the ninth inning and David Segui set him up with an RBI single. But Greg Zaun (2-for-2 for the spring) had a pinch-hit and scored the winning run on another pinch-single by Sherman Obando.

And Armando Benitez, who had worked only one-third of an inningin "A" competition, opened some eyes with a brief relief appearance.

"He's been begging for a shot and when Sid [Fernandez] went down, we had a chance to get him out there," said Oates, who was impressed with what he saw.

"That's as good as we've had anybody throw all spring," Oates said of the young right-hander, who didn't allow a base runner in 1 1/3 innings. "They didn't have any good swings against him. He was very impressive."

Another player who scored points yesterday was Barry Manuel, who pitched a hitless 10th inning.

"We'll judge everybody over the whole spring," said Oates, "but you can say he didn't hurt himself."

Bench brings its bats

Of the Orioles' 15 hits yesterday, Cal Ripken's RBI double and singles by Chris Sabo and Jeff Tackett were the only ones contributed by the starting lineup.

Jim Poole pitched another scoreless inning, his third straight appearance without allowing a run -- after giving up seven runs in one-third of an inning in his first outing.

The Orioles (4-9) committed three more errors yesterday, giving them a total of 19.

Jamie Moyer is tonight's scheduled starter in the game against the Cincinnati Reds. Ben McDonald will face Philadelphia tomorrow night.

ORIOLES TONIGHT

Opponent: Cincinnati Reds

Site: Plant City, Fla.

Time: 7:05

TV: HTS

Radio: None

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