Regan warmed by Fla. spring

April 23, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,Sun Staff Writer

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Phil Regan once said he wouldn't really feel like the manager of the Orioles until he directed the team at Camden Yards.

That was back in February, before the Orioles were effectively booted out of the Grapefruit League for refusing to participate in replacement games. Before AL president Gene Budig seriously considered forcing the Orioles to forfeit games. Before a federal District Court judge named Sonia Sotomayor forced a cease-fire in baseball's labor wars.

Regan, who arrived in Florida on Feb. 3, flew back to Baltimore with the Orioles last night. Regan's been instructing minor-leaguers and then major-leaguers for two months, he's had a birthday, and mild Florida winter turning into a sweaty spring.

But in Regan's mind, today will be his first day as the manager: the Orioles play host to Philadelphia, the first major-league baseball at Camden Yards since last Aug. 11.

"I've been here long enough," Regan said. "I think it'll be special for me."

He's feeling all the more special because he likes the way his team is coming together. He likes the defense, the starting pitching, and believes he's got a deep bench.

The only question mark, Regan said the other day, is rookie reliever Armando Benitez.

But then yesterday, in the Orioles' 7-4 exhibition victory against the Chicago White Sox, Benitez looked super, striking out two and allowing one hit in one inning of work.

In his four prior outings this spring, Benitez had a tendency to drop his arm as he threw. On Friday, pitching coach Mike Flanagan and Benitez adjusted the right-hander's mechanics -- without throwing a pitch.

It is referred to as shadow-boxing, Flanagan said: Benitez stood on the mound in Dunedin, before the Orioles' exhibition against Toronto, and simulated his motion as it should be.

And Benitez went from shadow-boxing to punchouts. Entering the game in the seventh inning, Benitez threw strikes with his fastball, and a much improved slider. Against the Phillies on Thursday, the slider had floated; catcher Greg Zaun likened it to a frisbee.

But against the White Sox, his slider had bite, buckling the knees of Ray Durham and Barry Lyons. Benitez struck out Durham, then allowed a handle-hit single to Norberto Martin. Zaun threw out Martin at second on an attempted steal, and Benitez finished off the inning by sneaking a slider past Lyons for strike three.

"He was on top of the ball when he threw," Regan said.

Zaun: "He was pitching more downhill, rather than kind of flat [in his delivery]. . . . The most important thing for him is to throw strikes with his fastball."

Regan opened camp concerned about his bullpen depth; the Orioles added Doug Jones and Jesse Orosco, and Jamie Moyer was moved to relief when Kevin Brown was signed.

Regan was worried about his outfield; the condition of Jeffrey Hammonds' knee and the seeming lack of experience. Hammonds has played well and appeared healthy, and the Orioles signed veterans Andy Van Slyke and Kevin Bass.

"We've had a good spring," Regan said.

Though he's ready to leave Florida, Regan wishes he had some more time for exhibitions. "Our pitchers need that," he said. "I would've liked our starters to go seven innings."

But given a choice between staying in Florida without a labor resolution, or returning to Camden Yards under less than ideal conditions . . . Regan made the obvious choice.

ORIOLES TODAY

Exhibition opponent:

Philadelphia Phillies

Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Time: 1:35 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Sid Fernandez vs. Phillies' Paul Quantrill

Tickets: 23,000 remain

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