Johnson leaves Fla. with no complaints Hammonds puts HR cap on his super spring

Orioles notebook

March 30, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It was time for the Orioles to pack up their troubles and head north, but manager Davey Johnson couldn't find much to complain about as his team left Florida yesterday.

"You can always think of more things to do," Johnson said, "but I think they've done the things they needed to do to get prepared."

The Orioles have some minor roster problems and a handful of xTC nagging injuries, but most of the major questions have been answered to the manager's satisfaction and one situation, in particular, has played out to his delight.

Outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds put another exclamation mark on his terrific spring with his sixth home run of the exhibition season in yesterday's 4-3 victory over the Montreal Expos. He arrives for today's exhibition finale against St. Louis at Camden Yards leading the Orioles in hits, doubles, home runs and total bases, as well as games played and at-bats.

He has proven durable and productive, which should move him up the club's outfield depth chart and earn him regular playing time early in the season. Not bad for a guy who was considered little more than trade bait when training camp opened.

"I believed I would be here," Hammonds said yesterday. "I don't think I could have had the spring I did if I didn't think that. I wanted to be here."

Hammonds appeared to be creating a problem for Johnson, whose roster was crowded with veteran outfielders, but he ended up solving one when several of the other outfielders came up sore late in spring training. He probably will be in the starting lineup on Tuesday, when the Orioles open against the Kansas City Royals.

The only lowlight in yesterday's comeback victory over the Expos was the early departure of right-hander Scott Erickson, who threw four innings and left with a slight groin pull. He iced it after the game and was able to walk without any noticeable restriction, and is expected to make his first regular-season start on Friday in Texas.

"It's not even hardly anything," Erickson said. "I just thought it would be safer to come out and not push it. Better safe than sorry."

There still are some roster decisions to finalize, but it appears that Johnson will go ahead with his plan to carry 13 pitchers. The front office spent the past few days gauging interest in some of the club's extra arms, but the 24-man roster (the club cannot replace suspended Roberto Alomar) probably will come from the group of players that boarded the team charter late yesterday afternoon.

"I'm 99.9 percent certain that our club will come from here," assistant general manager Kevin Malone said. "Nothing's hopping."

Anderson update

Johnson repeated yesterday that he would prefer to put outfielder Brady Anderson on the disabled list rather than risk letting him play with a fractured rib, but he said the decision will not be made until tomorrow.

"Brady wants to play with a little pain," Johnson said, "but I don't want to get in a situation where he's dealing with this for 30 or 40 days. Rib injuries are tough enough to heal."

Anderson does not want to miss any playing time. He refused to have his appendix out after he was diagnosed with appendicitis last season, so it may be hard to convince him to take time off for this. He likely would miss only six games, since the DL assignment would be retroactive to March 23.

Alomar says he'll be ready

Alomar played for the second time this spring yesterday and singled in two at-bats. He appeared to be running well and said that he is confident that he'll be ready to play when he becomes eligible to rejoin the club on April 7.

He traveled with the club to Baltimore for today's game, but will return to Sarasota to work out at the club's minor-league facility until he has served his suspension.

"I'll be ready," he said. "All I really need to do down here is take batting practice to get ready."

Expos rookie prospect hurt

Expos outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, who many consider to be a strong favorite for NL Rookie of the Year honors, had to be removed from yesterday's game after he fouled a ball off his left foot. He was taken for X-rays, but appeared to have just a bruised foot.

Devarez moves on

The Orioles announced yesterday that they have sold the contract of minor-league catcher Cesar Devarez to the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays for an undisclosed amount of cash. Devarez had a good spring, batting .350, but he had recently cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Rochester.

The Orioles also announced that catcher/first baseman Kris Gresham, whose bases-empty home run in the eighth inning tied yesterday's game, has been returned to the minor-league camp in Sarasota for assignment.

Gruber goes north

Veteran infielder Kelly Gruber continued to improve on his spring batting average yesterday, with a single in two at-bats. He now is hitting a respectable .250, and his average is .361 since an 0-for-16 start.

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