Orioles outfield is still question mark Anderson assured a spot, but where is 1st unknown

March 24, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

VIERA, Fla. - Much of Davey Johnson's spring experimentation has ended, as he begins to fine-tune his roster. But Johnson is still trying to figure out one important area of his club the outfield alignment.

He has plenty of options. Brady Anderson will play regularly, that Johnson knows. But he isn't sure where Anderson will play, center or left, or where Mike Devereaux will play, or Tony Tarasco or Jeffrey Hammonds.

Either B. J. Surhoff or Bobby Bonilla will be added to that mix, as soon as Johnson decides who will play third base (Surhoff, in all likelihood). Surhoff or Bonilla could be used as designated hitter, but Johnson knows both men want to play in the field.

Johnson has been mulling all this for almost six weeks, but unfortunately, he hasn't been able to gather much information. Hammonds and Devereaux were both sidelined by injuries, Tarasco didn't join the team until 11 days ago, and Bonilla has been hit by the flu bug.

In addition, the playing conditions for outfielders have been so miserable this spring that Johnson doesn't wholly trust all that he's seen.

The Orioles have had an unusual number of games in extreme wind, the kind of wind that embarrasses outfielders and turns fly balls into homers and fair balls into foul balls. During day games at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, the Orioles' new home, the sun shines into the eyes of the right fielder and center fielder.

"We haven't had the best situation to make judgments," Johnson said. "I'm still taking in information. I'm just now starting to think about where people will play."

He has a wide array of strengths and weaknesses among his outfielders. Anderson and Devereaux are the best at tracking fly balls, but they don't have great arms. Tarasco has a great arm, when healthy, but he's not healthy. Hammonds may have the best recovery speed if his first step is the wrong one, but oft times his first step is the wrong one. Bonilla throws OK, but he probably has the worst range of the five.

Some scouts believe Johnson may be better off keeping Anderson in left field, where he's played most of his career. Their rationale is that it's better to leave Anderson where he plays great defense, rather than put him in center, where he isn't quite as good.

"That way," said one, "you don't weaken yourself in two spots."

Johnson hasn't reached that conclusion, however: He started Anderson in center two of the last three days, after a string of starts in left. If Anderson plays in left, somebody else will have to play center. "I've been running a lot of guys out there," he said. "Hammonds, Tarasco. I haven't gotten a chance to see a couple of guys, because of other circumstances."

Johnson said earlier this week he was considering playing Anderson in left and center, depending on the degree of difficulty the respective outfields present. Left field in Fenway Park, for example, is tougher than left field in Seattle.

But yesterday, Johnson sounded as if he'd like to pick one spot for Anderson. "I don't like too much movement," Johnson said. "I'd like to have a guy like Brady" an everyday player "settle in where he's most comfortable and stay that way. Same thing with Surhoff and Bonilla.

Devereaux would be the strongest candidate to play center if Anderson doesn't, but he strained a hamstring early in camp and missed about two weeks. In his first game after his injury, Devereaux made a great running catch in center field.

But Devereaux, Hammonds and Tarasco will share two spots. So if Anderson is to play left field every day, either Hammonds or Tarasco has to play center when Devereaux doesn't. Neither has looked good when given that opportunity this spring.

Tarasco likely will get much of his playing time in right field, where his throwing ability will come into play. "I like a good arm in right field," Johnson said. "And with the shorter porch [in Camden Yards], you should be able to keep [opposing runners] from going from first to third on a single."

Johnson wants to have his best defensive outfield on the field for the late innings, and based on spring performances, that would probably be the trio of Anderson, Devereaux and Tarasco. "But Hammonds might be in there, too," Johnson said. "I don't know."

He's got eight more days to draw his conclusions for Opening Day.

Pub Date: 3/24/96

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