Orioles' game face brings smiles Regular lineup put on field for first time

March 01, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It wasn't the 1996 Opening Day lineup, but it wasn't far off.

Manager Davey Johnson didn't make any pretense of balancing the batting orders yesterday for the final dress rehearsal before the Orioles open the Grapefruit League season tomorrow against the Florida Marlins.

On one squad, there was Cal Ripken and Roberto Alomar and Rafael Palmeiro and every other player projected to be in the starting lineup except catcher Chris Hoiles. On the other was Hoiles and a montage of utility players and minor-league prospects. Predictably, the better team won and a surprisingly large crowd at Fort Lauderdale Stadium got a free look at the lineup that is expected to carry the Orioles into the playoffs this year.

Intrasquad games don't usually draw in the thousands, but an estimated crowd of 1,500 watched the first pairing of Ripken and Alomar on the Orioles infield and the first competitive pitches thrown by Kent Mercker and David Wells in Orioles finery.

"You always like to have your best players on the field," said Johnson, "but you have to have backup players, too. That's one of the reasons you look at bench guys in those spots."

The bench guys had the better of it for a while. Mercker gave up two runs on five hits in his two-inning appearance, and Wells had a relatively easy time with the major-league lineup in his scoreless, two-inning debut.

Left-hander Jesse Orosco was the one who got the first real taste of what it might be like for opposing pitchers this year, when the big-league lineup batted around to score six runs on five hits and a walk in the fourth inning.

"I was getting a little worried about Jesse after about 35 pitches," Johnson said. "I didn't want to bury him the first day."

Orosco didn't take it too hard, perhaps because he can find comfort in the fact he won't have to face that lineup again -- at least until one of next year's intrasquad games -- and the knowledge established pitchers don't have anything to prove this early in the spring.

The two days of intrasquad play provided an opportunity for a couple of players to make a first impression on Johnson. Journeyman Joe Hall had another big day at the plate and Triple-A outfielder Sherman Obando hit the ball very hard, but yesterday's seven-inning competition was more of an opportunity for the club's veteran stars to get a feel for each other before the exhibition season.

"It was a lot of fun out there today," said left fielder Mike Devereaux, who singled home two runs and made a leaping catch to rob Obando of a home run. "You see those guys on the infield and it's like 'Wow, what kind of team are we going to have here this year?' "

Devereaux wasn't making any assumptions about his place in the everyday lineup, but he was happy to be included on the first-string team. His specific role, and playing time, are yet to be determined.

The only player on the first team not likely to be in the Opening Day lineup was reserve catcher Gregg Zaun, who contributed a single and played well behind the plate. Hoiles is the everyday catcher, but he was used as the DH on the second team because Johnson is bringing him along slowly to avoid a repeat of last year's chronic shoulder soreness.

Johnson is not planning to put all of his projected regulars on the field for the exhibition opener either. Ripken, Bobby Bonilla and Hoiles will not travel to Viera, Fla., to face the Marlins, but fans there will see a representative Orioles team behind starting pitcher Mike Mussina.

"It's a TV game," Johnson said, "so we'll put a pretty good squad out there, but it's so early, you want to give a lot of guys the opportunity to play."

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