FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The big test for a pitcher coming back from an operation isn't necessarily the first time he pitches in a game. It's the first time he throws after he pitches, for that's when he finds out if his arm has bounced back.
Arthur Rhodes and Alan Mills threw yesterday for the first time since pitching in an intrasquad game Wednesday, and they were outstanding, their fastballs displaying that little extra zip. In fact, pitching coach Pat Dobson thought Rhodes had his best day of the spring yesterday, and he expects both pitchers will be given the OK to throw breaking pitches within a week.
Manager Davey Johnson said: "Mills has pretty much caught up with everybody. Arthur looks like everybody else when they came into camp a couple of weeks ago."
Rhodes will pitch in a B squad exhibition next week, and Mills will throw in a regular exhibition in the next few days.
"I couldn't be more pleased with how they've come along," Johnson said.
In the fold
The final two Orioles without 1996 contracts signed yesterday. Shortstop Manny Alexander agreed to a deal worth $190,000 for this season, and outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds will receive a base salary of $285,000, with incentives of $15,000 for 250 plate appearances, another $15,000 for 350 plate appearances and another $15,000 for 450 plate appearances.
Assistant general manager Kevin Malone, who has been handling most of the contracts for players not yet eligible for arbitration, thought earlier in the week that the Orioles might not agree to terms with Hammonds and would unilaterally renew his contract.
But Malone and Hammonds' agent, Jeff Moorad, made progress Wednesday night and Thursday. "Jeffrey [Hammonds] was good about it," Malone said.
The Orioles also made some slight improvements in some of their other contracts, a concession to players with a little more seniority than others. Pitcher Mark Lee was bumped from $190,000 to $195,000, outfielder Sherman Obando from $160,000 $165,000, and pitcher Armando Benitez from $150,000 to $155,000.
Interest in Tarasco
Malone confirmed the Orioles have asked the Montreal Expos about Tony Tarasco, who could fill the team's need for a left-handed hitting outfielder.
Tarasco, 25, came up through the Atlanta farm system, breaking into the majors in 1993. He hit .273 in 87 games in 1994, and JTC Malone, then GM of the Expos, traded for him last spring. Tarasco batted .249 with 24 stolen bases, 14 homers and 40 RBIs. He can play right or left field.
The Orioles also are tracking Montreal first baseman/outfielder Henry Rodriguez, but Tarasco likely would be a better fit because he's a much better outfielder.
Pitching coach Pat Dobson loved what he saw from Benitez in the intrasquad game Thursday -- a generally crisp 11-pitch inning. What Dobson liked, in particular, was that on the two occasions Benitez's delivery fell out of sync, he made adjustments and recovered on the following pitch.
"I'll tell you something: He's a quick learner," Dobson said. "You tell him to do something, and he'll do it right away."
Around the horn
Chris Hoiles didn't catch in either intrasquad game and won't play today. His first game action is tomorrow, and in preparation, he practiced throws to second base, cutting loose on about 15. Johnson has restricted his workouts to keep Hoiles' arm, bothered by heavy workouts last season, rested for the regular season. . . . Outfielder Greg Blosser sat out some of yesterday's workout with back trouble, and Kimera Bartee is bothered by a sore shoulder. It's becoming more and more apparent the Orioles will have a difficult time keeping Bartee, a Rule 5 draftee. Assuming they decide they can't keep him on the major-league roster, they'll have to offer him back to Minnesota for half of the price they paid for him, $25,000, and the Twins probably would take him back. . . . The Clark College women's basketball team, the Vancouver, Wash., club coached by Orioles reliever Randy Myers, was knocked out of the playoffs. He never did ask Johnson if he could leave to coach the playoffs, as he had suggested he would. "Don't give him any ideas," Johnson lectured reporters.