Growth of Hammonds, Alexander pleases Johnson Calls young Orioles pair a 'most pleasant surprise'

Orioles notebook

March 11, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A smile comes to manager Davey Johnson's face when he talks about how the Orioles are taking shape this spring.

Not even yesterday's rainout of a scheduled exhibition game against the Atlanta Braves could dampen Johnson's enthusiasm when the conversation turned to a couple of youngsters: Manny Alexander and Jeffrey Hammonds.

Alexander has been leading the major leagues in hitting this spring, and Hammonds appears to be on the way back from a series of neck and knee injuries.

Hammonds has played just 125 games over the last two years, and he looked hesitant and slow early in camp, starting in a 3-for-15 slump. That has changed in the past four or five days.

"The most pleasant surprises in camp among the players would be Hammonds and Alexander," Johnson said. "I like helping young players establish themselves. I like to find work for guys who merit it with their performance."

Hammonds is running well, as evidenced by the fact he's playing center field. Hammonds also is getting a chance to show off his speed from the leadoff spot, where he was scheduled to bat yesterday.

"Hammonds was off to a slow start, but he's picked it up lately," Johnson said. "The things he's been able to do are the things I saw him do two or three years ago when he was healthy. He's playing the way he's capable of playing."

Johnson also is happy with the play of another outfielder, Brady Anderson. Anderson has been working hard on hitting to the opposite field, and Johnson said he is pleased with his progress. B. J. Surhoff has won Johnson's admiration for his scrappy play, and Cal Ripken, Roberto Alomar and Rafael Palmeiro are "as advertised."

Slugger Bobby Bonilla has not yet lived up to his advanced billing. "Bonilla has looked behind in his swing," Johnson said. "He's struggling a little bit."

But overall, the skipper said he's refreshed by his team's willingness to put in long hours with a chipper attitude.

"We've got a lot of work done," he said. "I have a much bigger comfort zone now than when camp opened."

The Alexander shuffle continued yesterday, with the utility man penciled in at third base. Alexander has played second and shortstop throughout his career, and he was in left field Saturday night, where he backtracked on a ball and made a nice catch.

"He tracked that ball pretty well," Johnson quipped. "I'm taping it as a training video to show to our other outfielders."

Johnson said he will continue to move Alexander around as long as he keeps hitting. Alexander is batting well above .500 and he has played tremendous defense all over the diamond.

He snared a scorcher in the first inning yesterday (the only inning played before the rains came), and made the throw to first in plenty of time to nail Braves speedster Marquis Grissom.

"I think he was a little stifled at second base last year," Johnson said. "I'm going to keep moving him around. He can play anywhere on the left side of the diamond. He's got terrific skills. I'll probably try him in the outfield again."

Third base has been a problem area for the Orioles. Surhoff has been error-prone there and Bonilla, another defensive liability, will most likely get a look at third, too.

"Manny can field third base. He's got a cannon," Johnson said. "He could kill a first baseman if he wanted to with that arm from second base. He's been much more selective and aggressive at the plate. Manny gives us depth in an area where we were a little shaky."

Cutting to the chase

Johnson will meet with general manager Pat Gillick and assistant GM Kevin Malone at 11 a.m. today to finalize the first series of cuts.

The Orioles expect to trim 10 to 15 players from their current 53-man roster. The roster eventually will be chopped to 25 players.

"It'll be an informative meeting," Johnson said. "Now that we've seen all the players, we feel better about our personnel. I'm better able to manage it."

Today's cuts will likely be comprised solely of players from Baltimore's minor-league system and some of the 12 nonroster invitees.

Chilly, Florida-style

The cold weather sweeping the country has found its way to southern Florida.

Saturday night, the Orioles encountered heavy winds and temperatures in the mid-50s. Blanketed fans weren't the only ones fighting the chills. Outfielder Mike Devereaux was trying to protect his tender hamstring muscle.

"I felt it tighten up in the middle of the [Saturday's] game," Devereaux said. "The weather stunk. It's supposed to be around 80 degrees down here. I hope it's not cold forever. I'll have to keep the leg covered. I know that I have to be careful with it. I feel all right with it."

Devereaux was not in the lineup for yesterday's game against Atlanta, and Johnson said he will not play for at least two more days. **TC "Mike was ahead of everybody down here swinging the bat," Johnson said. "But this is something you don't want to push. It was a bad decision for me to let him play Saturday. He talked me into it, but I know better."

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