ST. PETERSBURG, FLA — ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- His window of opportunity is ajar these days, and Mike Oquist appears ready to squeeze through it.
The Orioles' 25-year-old rookie, thrust more prominently into the picture because of the injury to Sid Fernandez, strengthened his case significantly here yesterday. The right-hander pitched four scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out four, as the Orioles defeated the Minnesota Twins, 5-2.
"I don't know what my situation is -- it's something I can't look at,"said Oquist, who appeared in five games with the Orioles last year. "I just have to do the best I can, like any other spring, and see what happens."
Yesterday was Oquist's fourth outing of the spring and though it was easily his best statistically, it wasn't the first time he impressed manager Johnny Oates. The only runs he has allowed (three) came on home runs by Carlos Delgado, the Toronto Blue Jays' impressive rookie catcher.
"Except for those two pitches, he's thrown the ball well," said Oates. "There are guys who throw harder and others with better breaking balls. He doesn't have what you'd call an outstanding pitch.
"You don't have to throw as hard as Ben McDonald or Arthur Rhodes to win, but if you don't, you can't beat yourself. And he doesn't dothat; he throws strikes."
This is not the first time Oquist has made an impression on Oates. "The first time I saw him pitch in an exhibition game was right here [Al Lang Stadium], and he picked a good runner [Chuck Carr] off second base in a tight situation to help us win a game," said Oates.
"That was his first big-league camp, and it showed me that he's in the game. I've seen veteran pitchers miss pickoff signs from an infielder, but he was very composed -- and he showed me that last year when we called him up. I like what I've seen."
Oates said he is unsure what role Oquist would fill if he survived the Orioles' final cut. Temporarily at least, he could fill in as the No. 5 starter until Fernandez returns, or he could be used in long relief if Alan Mills moves into the rotation.
"Right now, I'm not concerned about what role he'd fill. We'll get it [the pitching staff] narrowed down and then figure that out."
Oquist has been used almost exclusively as a starter during his mi- nor-league career. But it was his work as a reliever with Triple-A Rochester last year that earned him a promotion to the big leagues.
"It was when Arthur [Rhodes] came down to Rochester [on a rehabilitation assignment] that I started to throw the ball good out of the bullpen," said Oquist. "If that's how they want to use me, I don't see it being a problem."
The biggest knock against Oquist has been based on the belief that he doesn't have a pitch he can rely on to get out left-handed hitters.
Oates may have tipped his hand on how he would use Oquist before the game. "Right now, that [facing left-handed hitters] isn't a major concern," said Oates. "I would be looking for spots to get him into games where the lineup is already stacked with right-handed hitters."
Oquist has his control working in his favor. "He's not going to get beat by walking a lot of guys," said pitching coach Dick Bosman, "and that counts big with Johnny and myself."
Oquist's minor-league record is 36-33, and in 583 2/3 innings, he has struck out 526 and walked 175.
He may not be overpowering, but his strikeout total is a good indication that Oquist doesn't have to rely on finesse. That he has the ability to do so when necessary has become a major plus in his favor.
The injury to Fernandez has presented Oquist with a realistic chance to make the Opening Day roster. He is not alone, with other young pitchers Brad Pennington, Barry Manuel, John O'Donoghue and Brian DuBois fitting into the equation with veterans Mark Eichhorn, Todd Frohwirth and Mark Williamson.
Opponent: Minnesota Twins
Site: Fort Myers, Fla.
Time: 1:05 p.m.
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)