McDonald is on, if not up to speed

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

March 23, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

PORT CHARLOTTE, FLA — PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Ben McDonald gave the Orioles 88 reasons yesterday to feel at ease about his readiness.

That's how many pitches McDonald threw in heat and humidity befitting of a game in Texas against the Rangers.

McDonald pitched one out into the sixth inning, gave up two earned runs on seven hits, walked one and struck out two in the Orioles' 4-2 loss to the Rangers.

"It was probably the worst stuff I've had all spring," said McDonald, who attributed it to the spring training dead-arm period. "I was trying to throw hard, and there was nothing there. That's something you always go through this time of year. I feel like I'm coming along good, but I'm not quite ready yet. By the end there my body was tired and my arm was dragging."

Orioles manager Johnny Oates put McDonald on a 90-pitch limit yesterday and will increase it to 110 in his next start, which will be his second-to-last outing of the spring.

"He didn't have real good command of his pitches, his forkball wasn't as good as it has been and his fastball was up a little," Oates said. "But he was able to get a little creative and get the job done."

Translation: McDonald has made the step from thrower to pitcher, a maturation that has many projecting a 20-win season for him soon.

"I felt like I turned the corner a year-and-a-half ago," McDonald said. "The only goal I have is to stay healthy and make all my starts again. It's hard to say how many games you will win. A lot has to happen for you to win games. I found that out last year."

McDonald took a 3.09 ERA but only a .500 record into his final start of 1993. Toronto torched him for eight earned runs in 1 2/3 innings to push his ERA to 3.39.

Buford continues to impress

There might not be a spot for outfielder Damon Buford on the Opening Day roster, but he has done everything this spring to try to force himself into the Orioles' plans. Buford leads the team with 18 hits, is batting .352, has scored 12 runs and driven in eight in 18 games.

"He's been very impressive," Oates said. "He's played all three ,, outfield positions, and he's played them all well."

Jack Voigt, batting .242, appeared at both corners of the outfield and infield last season, which gives him a versatility edge over Buford.

L "All of our young outfielders have looked good," Oates said.

Mark Smith, likely bound for Triple-A Rochester, is batting .357. Strong-armed Alex Ochoa, optioned to Double-A Bowie, is batting .611.

Veteran Lonnie Smith, who hit his third home run of the spring andraised his average to .385, has liked what he has seen of the Orioles' young talent. "It looks to me like the Orioles should be set in the outfield for years," Smith said.

Reunion put on hold

It was no coincidence first baseman Rafael Palmeiro did not make the trip to play yesterday against his former team, the Rangers. "Just like I didn't bring Chris Sabo when we played the Reds," Oates said.

Palmeiro and Will Clark will have ample opportunity to trade insults -- as they did through the media during the winter -- at first base early in the season. Six of the Orioles' first 11 regular-season games are against Texas.

Clark, though, wasn't going to wait to play against the didn't wait until then for the club that flirted with but did not sign him. He hit two home runs, doubled, went 4-for-5, scored three runs and drove in three. Clark's winning home run with one on and one out in the ninth came off of Orioles left-hander Jim Poole, who has a 9.72 9.76 ERA in six appearances.

Anderson still out

Brady Anderson has not played in a game since being returned from center field to left, because of back stiffness. "He said he thought one more day would help," Oates said yesterday. "He's day-to-day. We'll see how he is tomorrow."

Pitching matchups set

Four of the American League's most respected right-handers will pitch in the season-opening two-game series between the Orioles and Kansas City Royals at Camden Yards. Kansas City's Kevin Appier (18-8) is scheduled to oppose Mike Mussina (14-6) on Opening Day. David Cone (11-14) faces McDonald (13-14) in the second game.

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