VIERA, Fla. - Oscar Munoz's loss could be Keith Shepherd's gain.
Munoz cleared waivers Friday and he has until tomorrow to accept or refuse an assignment to Triple-A Rochester. That leaves Shepherd and Jimmy Myers as the only right-handed relievers still competing for a roster spot, and it is unlikely the Orioles would open the season with four lefties in their bullpen.
Shepherd, 28, pitched two games with the Boston Red Sox last season. Myers was dropped from the Orioles' 40-man roster at the end of last season.
Manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Pat Dobson both said they're pleased with Shepherd's work this spring and his ability to overcome a series of arm injuries that plagued him last year.
Shepherd was shaky in yesterday's 11-1 loss to the Florida Marlins. He struck out the first two batters he faced, then gave up two doubles, two singles, a home run, two consecutive wild pitches and committed an error in the Marlins' five-run sixth inning. Two of the runs were earned. Shepherd's spring ERA ballooned from 1.50 to 3.86 in the process.
"He's fighting for the 11th pitching spot," Johnson said. "You want to see guys who throw a lot of strikes. He's mixed pitches well. You always need pitching. The guy hasn't been healthy for the last year or so, but he was good in winter ball and he's been good down here."
Shepherd said he's happy to still be in camp, where he can make an impression on the coaching staff. But he's not getting his hopes up, because a trade could be made or a pitcher could be signed off waivers at any time.
"I didn't even know Munoz went on waivers," Shepherd said. "I can't let myself think about stuff like that. I've thrown the ball well. I've had some pinching in the bursa sac in my elbow, but I've still been able to throw strikes. The more time I spend in camp, the better it is. If they send me to Triple-A, hopefully I'll get a good look when something opens up."
Johnson said the Orioles would like to keep Munoz in their system. If Munoz decided to accept the demotion to Rochester, Johnson said he'll keep the reliever in Fort Lauderdale with the major-leaguers.
The Orioles tried to address the right-handed reliever situation yesterday by offering two players to Florida for , but the Marlins turned down the deal.
Huson, Smith await decision
The Orioles must soon decide if they are going to carry an extra infielder or go with an additional outfielder. If utility man Jeff Huson is put on waivers by Tuesday, the Orioles would save money because they'd only have to pay him for 45 pro-rated days of his 1996 salary.
Huson has five years of major-league service, and can refuse an assignment to the minor leagues. Huson likely would do just that, and the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros are both looking for infielders.
The Orioles do not have an experienced middle infielder in the minors who is ready to play in the majors in case of an injury, which could be a factor that will prompt them to keep Huson.
Outfielder Mark Smith, who also is on the bubble, still has options and can be sent to the minor leagues. Smith has spent the past three years excelling in Rochester, where the Orioles have little outfield depth.
Smith, who hit a game-winning two-run homer on Wednesday, has hit safely in nine of his past 11 games to lift his average to .361.
"He's having a great spring," Johnson said. "He's really busted his tail to work on his swing."
Smith is working on his mechanics with batting coach Rick Down for 30 minutes every day and he's beginning to notice some improvement in his swing. Smith noticed a problem when reviewing tapes of his swing in the off-season and he started refining his stroke playing winter ball.
"I feel a lot better at the plate," Smith said. "Rick Down really has me on a good routine before each game. Mentally and mechanically, I'm ready to play. I'm staying on the ball and swinging all the way through it. . . . think I can help this team."
Brady Anderson was rushed into duty yesterday when Bobby Bonilla (flu) and Gregg Zaun (dental surgery) could not play.
On Thursday night Johnson realized Zaun and Bonilla would be not be ready to play, so he tried to call Anderson, who was not scheduled to make the trip to Viera. But Anderson's phone was disconnected at 6 p.m.
So, yesterday morning to check in with his buddy, he was thrust into duty to round out the Orioles' outfield. Anderson made the 160-mile trip from Fort Lauderdale to Viera in 2 hours, 20 minutes and he was in uniform in time for the national anthem.
Anderson missed batting practice, but his team-leading fourth home run was all the scoring the Orioles could muster yesterday.
"Let's just say I wasn't worried about getting a ticket coming down here," Anderson said. "If the slow people would've stayed in the right lane like they're supposed to, I would've made it quicker."
Around the horn
Bonilla is taking new medication for his flu-like sickness, and Johnson said he may DH against Boston today. . . . Zaun had two wisdom teeth removed on Friday, but Johnson expects him to return in the next few days. . . . Johnson said he will extend Armando Benitez's appearances to two or more innings next week.
Ups and downs
Highlights and lowlights from the Orioles' 11-1 loss to the Florida Marlins yesterday:
Brady Anderson went 2-for-4 with a home run (his team-leading fourth of the spring).
Armando Benitez pitched a scoreless eighth, dropping his ERA to 3.12.
Starter Jimmy Haynes was hammered for six runs in five innings.
Reliever Keith Shepherd was touched for five runs
Manny Alexander went 0-for-3 and does not have a hit in his past 11 at-bats. His average has dropped from near .600 to .333.
Pub Date: 3/24/96