Gonzales would rather take a cut at another team

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

April 06, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

Rene Gonzales' second tour of duty with the Orioles turned out to be much shorter than his first.

Gonzales, one of the final two players cut from the Orioles when they trimmed their roster to 25 Sunday, decided to turn down an invitation to join Triple-A Rochester and declared himself a free agent, according to his agent, Dennis Gilbert.

"Rene is disappointed," Gilbert said. "He didn't feel he got the opportunity that he thought he would get to win the utility job. Now he's looking for a better situation."

Gilbert did not specify what teams have an interest in Gonzales, but Cleveland, Montreal and San Diego are clubs that might have a need for a player with the versatility Gonzales offers.

Gonzales signed a minor-league contract with the Orioles as a nonroster invitee to spring training and anticipated playing all four infield positions. As it turned out, Manny Alexander was sidelined, leaving Gonzales as the only backup to Cal Ripken at shortstop.

Gonzales, 32, spent four seasons (1987-90) in the Orioles organization, before playing for Toronto in 1991 and for California in 1992 and 1993. He batted .277 in 1992 and won the third-base job for the Angels before his left forearm was broken by a Jaime Navarro pitch. The Angels traded for Kelly Gruber that off-season, and Gonzales was not given a chance to regain a regular job.

Gonzales played in 24 exhibition games for the Orioles this spring, batted .244 and committed six errors.

Learning from the bench

Damon Buford starts the season as the Orioles' No. 1 pinch runner and best reserve defensive outfielder.

"I think I can learn more up here," Buford said. "Let's say there is a man on second, two outs, the pitcher is on the hill. I can see how he's going to throw to a hitter like me. I can study pitchers' moves, watch what they like to throw on certain counts. You can't learn that in Triple-A."

Buford led the team or tied for the lead in runs (15), hits (25), doubles (seven), triples (two), extra-base hits (nine) and stolen bases (three) during the exhibition season.

"I was happy they gave me a chance," Buford said. "They could have just said, 'Let's start him at Triple A.' If I didn't have a good spring and show them I could help the team win, I'm sure I would have started the year at Triple A."

Buford did not appear in the game in his first Opening Day, but it still will be more memorable than that of his manager, Johnny Oates.

"My first Opening Day in the big leagues got canceled," Oates said. "It was 1972, I was sitting in a hotel in Miami on March 31 and the player rep said, 'Guys, get your own way home. The baseball season is shut down.' There was a strike. So my first Opening Day was anti-climactic."

Oates brushes off critics

Oates heard criticism for not sending Mike Mussina to the mound for the ninth inning of the Orioles' 6-3, Opening Day victory over Kansas City. Mussina had thrown 91 pitches.

Oates repeatedly has blamed himself for letting Mussina throw 141 pitches last season in a 14-strikeout start May 16 at Detroit, believing it to be a contributing factor in the shoulder problems that dogged Mussina throughout the second half of 1993.

"I can't think of any gain in sending him out there for the ninth no matter what had happened," Oates said. "The idea was not to try to let him get a complete game. The idea was just to try to look out for him. We send him back out there in the ninth, and there is a possibility we're right back where we were last year. If we can't hold a five-run lead, we're in trouble.

"Plus, from a confidence standpoint, he pitched eight good innings. Why give him a chance to mess it up?"

Terps coach honored

Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams, whose team advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch for tonight's game.

Ticket availability

Approximately 3,000 tickets remain on sale for tonight's game. The Orioles are off tomorrow and begin a three-game series Friday against the Texas Rangers.

Approximately 4,500 tickets remain for Friday night's game, 1,800 for Saturday and 3,000 for Sunday.

The Orioles have sold out their past 53 home dates, 12 shy of the record of 65 in a row set by the Orioles May 23, 1992, through

April 20, 1993.

Change in game time

Game time for today's exhibition game between Orioles farm teams Bowie and Frederick has been moved ahead two hours to 5 p.m. at Frederick's Grove Stadium.

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