FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Five batters into his first appearance in any sort of competition since having shoulder surgery, Alan Mills raged. The home plate umpire for the Orioles' first intrasquad game of the spring yesterday had a different interpretation of the strike zone than Mills, and the pitcher stared at him in fury.
In other words, Mills felt right at home. Mills, whose comeback is important for the depth of the Orioles' bullpen, allowed two hits and a run in one inning, and felt no pain in his shoulder.
Left-hander Arthur Rhodes, also recovering from shoulder surgery, pitched an inning, needing only six pitches to get three outs.
Mills said: "Not bad. Not bad at all. I wasn't out there trying to [throw hard]. I was trying to keep the ball down, and I did that."
Mills, restricted to fastballs and changeups on orders from pitching coach Pat Dobson and manager Davey Johnson, thinks he'll be ready for the start of the season, and he intends to ask for permission to throw his slider. "I'll have to discuss that with the pitching coach and manager first," he said.
Rhodes warmed up for nearly 45 minutes, as Mike Hartley struggled through a long inning. But he pitched in short order when he finally took the mound, throwing strikes and keeping the ball down, getting two grounders and a flyout.
"I'm a couple of weeks behind," he said. "I'm not cutting loose. I'm just trying to get the ball in the strike zone and let them hit it.
"My arm feels very good."
Johnson called the outings by Rhodes and Mills the most important aspect of the intrasquad game, which he essentially wrote off as being inconsequential. "I'm not going to make any comments on guys who didn't play well," said Johnson, "because it's really not that important right now."
The Orioles will play another intrasquad game today, seven innings, with all of those position players who sat out yesterday -- Cal Ripken, Roberto Alomar, Rafael Palmeiro, Brady Anderson, Mike Devereaux and Chris Hoiles -- expected to participate.
The Orioles will begin their regular exhibition schedule Saturday. Mike Mussina and Jimmy Haynes will be the first two pitchers for the Orioles, when they play the Florida Marlins.
Johnson seemed to use the intrasquad game to give players a chance to prove they can do things they would have to do during the regular season. For instance, he started B. J. Surhoff and Bobby Bonilla, the two third base candidates. Jeff Huson, who must show he can hit enough to win a job on the bench, batted second and started as a designated hitter. Kimera Bartee, the Rule 5 draftee who appears to have an uphill battle to stick with the Orioles, led off and played center field. Sherman Obando played first base; if he's to remain with the Orioles, Johnson may want him to be able to play first and give Palmeiro an occasional day off. Jeffrey Hammonds started in center field.
Surhoff and Bonilla each doubled twice and played flawlessly in the field, with Surhoff continuing to look better and better at third, more fluid. "I want him to feel at home here," Johnson said.
Bonilla's contract will wait
Orioles general manager Pat Gillick and assistant GM Kevin Malone met briefly with a representative for Bonilla -- "about 30 seconds," Malone said -- and informed him the Orioles want to wait until after the season to talk about extending Bonilla's contract. Bonilla, 33, earns $4.5 million this year, and then becomes a free agent.
You say goodbye, I say hello
At the end of last season, Detroit veterans Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker were thought to be on the verge of retirement. Orioles ace Mike Mussina faced the Tigers in their last game in Detroit in '95, and their last game of the season at Camden Yards, and threw Trammell and Whitaker fastballs down the middle of the plate, trying to give them a chance at some hits.
As it turned out, Trammell returned to the Tigers, and he wants to offer an apology of sorts to Mussina, and make it clear he wasn't trying to deceive the pitcher.
"The way [Mussina] handled himself, he's just a class act," Trammell said. "I hope I'll get a moment to say thank you again. I just wasn't ready to retire.
"I did say thank you [at the end of last year]. Lou and I appreciate what he did."
The Orioles signed catcher Cesar Devarez to a one-year contract. He'll receive $120,000 if he makes the major-league team and $42,250 in the minors.
Highs and lows
Some of the ups and downs from the Orioles' intrasquad game yesterday:
* B. J. Surhoff and Bobby Bonilla had two doubles apiece.
* Joe Hall, trying to win a job on the Orioles' bench, went 2-for-3 and made a nice running catch in right field.
* Scott Erickson threw two shutout innings, striking out three.
* Roger McDowell threw a scoreless inning.
* Pitchers Mike Hartley and Aaron Lane constantly fell behind hitters and were bombed, Hartley giving up three runs in his inning and Lane allowing five, including a two-run homer by Scott McClain.
* Catcher B. J. Waszgis had two passed balls.
* Nonroster invitee Greg Blosser, who must overcome a reputation for being a poor defensive outfielder, misplayed a fly ball into a double, and was charged with an error when he failed to pick up a grounder.