Gruber breaks out with two hits Veteran ends 0-for, hopes to mount final roster drive

Orioles notebook

March 17, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Kelly Gruber finally got on the board yesterday, ending an 0-for-the-exhibition-season slump with two singles in the Orioles' 6-5 Grapefruit League victory over the Minnesota Twins at Hammond Stadium.

Gruber beat out an infield hit in the fourth inning and slapped an opposite-field single in the seventh to jump-start his unlikely comeback attempt after going hitless in his first 16 spring at-bats.

"I felt good," Gruber said. "Things are looking pretty good so far. I guess I should be worried about putting up some stats, but you're kind of more into trying to see the ball and get in shape. I felt a little better at the plate today and it was a good test, being on base and having to score from second base. That was good."

It has been a tough month. Gruber signed with the Orioles after spending nearly four years out of the game with an injury that led to neck surgery. He arrived in spring training in good shape, but strained a hamstring early in the exhibition season and missed nine days. Now, he's back, but time is running short.

The Orioles open the regular season in just 15 days and Gruber has yet to prove he is durable enough to play regularly and capable of being productive again at the major-league level. Manager Davey Johnson is going to have to see a lot in a hurry to keep him on the 25-man roster.

"I think he was just getting into shape when he blew out," Johnson said. "I thought he was about to start expressing his talent. I wouldn't eliminate him yet."

Gruber will get today off and then play in tomorrow's game. The Orioles are off Wednesday, but after that Johnson likely will play Gruber every day to see if he can stand up to the rigors of the regular season. If he does -- and is productive at the plate -- the Orioles will have a decision to make.

If he doesn't, then Gruber, 35, will have to make a tough call. Does he go home and resume his retirement or agree to start the season at Triple-A Rochester? He isn't ready to say.

Moose is loose

Right-hander Mike Mussina gave up four runs on eight hits over five innings against the Twins yesterday, but he appears to be stretching out nicely for his Opening Day start against the Kansas City Royals on April 1.

"Moose threw the ball better," Johnson said. "He threw 86 pitches. He's right on schedule."

Mussina had given up just one earned run in his first nine innings of work this spring, but he allowed three runs in the fifth inning, including a home run to Pat Meares.

Meanwhile, in Sarasota

No. 4 starter Rocky Coppinger gave up a run over four innings and Brady Anderson hit his first home run of the spring as the other half of the Orioles' traveling party scored a 4-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox in a split-squad game in Sarasota, Fla.

Coppinger had not been scored upon in his first three starts, but he was pitching on extra rest after being rained out of his scheduled start in West Palm Beach on Friday. The only hit he gave up was a bases-empty home run to White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura.

Anderson entered yesterday's game batting .419 with five RBIs, but had yet to pick up where he left off when he hit an Orioles record 50 home runs last season.

Late entries

Infielder Jeff Reboulet and catcher Cesar Devarez were scratched from yesterday's Fort Myers starting lineup, but not because of injury. Johnson said that he had made up the lineups for yesterday's split-squad games several days in advance, and just adjusted them because he wanted to play other people.

"I didn't know that Kelly Gruber was going to be available yesterday," Johnson said. "I wanted to get him some work and I wanted to get [catcher] B. J. Waszgis in there."

Around the horn

Left-hander Arthur Rhodes, who has been hobbled by a sore knee, retired all three Twins he faced in the seventh inning. Former Orioles closer Gregg Olson pitched one scoreless inning for the Twins. He has not been scored upon in three relief appearances this spring. Catcher Chris Hoiles had two doubles against the Twins, raising his batting average to .276.

Pub Date: 3/17/97

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