Obando, Zaun make point in hurry 1st baseman, catcher start strong in bid to secure spot

Orioles notebook

March 03, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

VIERA, Fla. -- Gregg Zaun and Sherman Obando both have something to prove this spring, and they made early points in the Orioles' first exhibition, a 10-1 victory over the Florida Marlins yesterday.

Obando had three hits, including a long bases-empty homer off Florida closer Robb Nen and a two-run double he rocketed into the right-center-field gap. Zaun had a couple of hits, performed well defensively and made a heads-up base-running play, scoring from second base on an infield error.

Zaun wants to let his new set of bosses -- general manager Pat Gillick, assistant GM Kevin Malone and manager Davey Johnson -- know there's no need to acquire another catcher. Obando wants to show he's adequate enough on defense that the Orioles will want to find a spot for his potent bat.

"It's nice to get out of the gates early and get those first hits," Zaun said. "That'll take the pressure off a little. . . . I want to break camp with this club. I don't want to go back to [Triple-A] Rochester. I want to spend 162 games in Baltimore."

Obando says he's shown he's a capable hitter. The question will be whether he can play first base or the outfield well enough, establish enough versatility, that Johnson will want him in the lineup on a regular basis.

"I'm trying to get in shape and work on my defense," said Obando, who handled his defensive chances at first base -- none difficult -- flawlessly yesterday. "Everybody knows I can hit. I need some at-bats. . . . I'd like to show what I could do if they gave me 400 or 500 at-bats."

Home is where the out is

Two outs in the Marlins' half of the second inning, runner at third, and Lou Lucca hit a grounder to Orioles third baseman B. J. Surhoff. Zaun got a slow start from behind the plate to get down the line and back up first.

Good thing. Surhoff, thinking there was only one out, turned and fired home. Zaun, very surprised, made the catch and tagged out Charles Johnson -- also very surprised -- at home. Surhoff quickly realized his mistake and ran into the dugout, his hat pulled down over his face.

"Hey, we got [the out], didn't we?" he said later. "A little bit of a blunder. Better now than later."

Somebody mentioned Zaun's slow start from home might've saved a throwing error by Surhoff. "If I had been catching," Surhoff said, "I wouldn't have been there. Just a little wakeup call for me."

Mike Mussina said: "That's why we have spring training."

Name recognition

The Orioles' team bus, traveling at a rapid rate of speed, was stopped by a Florida state trooper on its way to Melbourne for yesterday's exhibition. As the driver handed over his license and registration, the trooper noticed Johnson, wearing his black Orioles jacket.

"Aren't you Davey Johnson?" the trooper asked.

Yes, Johnson replied.

"Do you think I should give him a ticket or a warning?"

Of course Johnson suggested a warning would suffice, and the bus driver continued on his way.

Benitez 'dominated'

Armando Benitez needed only 11 pitches to get through his one inning of relief work. "A mismatch," pitching coach Pat Dobson said. "He dominated. He threw strikes and got ahead of the hitters and got a couple of people out with his slider. I couldn't ask for anything more."

Around the horn

Willis Ontanez, the Double-A third baseman claimed on waivers last month by the Orioles, is winning over the front office and coaching staff with his power potential and defensive abilities. Ontanez was traded by the Los Angeles Dodgers to Seattle as part of the Mike Blowers deal last fall, and then the Mariners tried to slip him through waivers. But the Orioles claimed the right-handed hitter, who has shown very good power to right-center field. "What you like, too, is that he's got a good quick stroke," Johnson said.

Ontanez likely will start the year in Double-A, and could become a factor at the major-league level late this year or in 1997.

The New York Mets were rained out yesterday, bumping back their starting rotation. Jason Isringhausen will start against the Orioles today, rather than Bill Pulsipher. . . . Cal Ripken, among others, did not make yesterday's road trip. They were excused to stay in Fort Lauderdale and work out in the morning. . . . Bill Ripken doubled in two at-bats yesterday. "I like Billy," Johnson said. "I think he adds to this ballclub. I like how he looks defensively as a third baseman. . . . It's going to come down to the best 25 players. Me, personally, would like to see him be one of the best 25."

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