Minor makes major impression Third baseman impresses at bat, in field in rare start

Orioles notebook

March 07, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Cal Ripken is the Orioles' regular third baseman, so Ryan Minor knows he's not going to get many starts. Yesterday, he showed he knows what to do when he does get one.

Leading off the third inning, Minor hit a 2-0 fastball from Ramon Martinez over the fence in left field, the ball disappearing over the hill. He later robbed Dodgers slugger Mike Piazza of a hit in the third, and singled in the fifth as part of a 2-for-3 afternoon in the Orioles' 18-2 loss.

"I like the way he looks," said manager Ray Miller. "He's like 10 pounds heavier than last year, but he looks a lot smoother. Hitting-wise, he's spread out and he's a massively strong man with very quick hands. He can hit the fastball and cover the mistake breaking ball."

Minor was guessing fastball on the home run, though knowing isn't always enough.

"Lucky for me, he supplied most of the power," said Minor, a former All-American basketball player at Oklahoma. "I just got my bat on it."

Minor, batting .429 (6-for-14) this spring, dived to his left to snare Piazza's liner and hold runners at second and third.

"That was more self-defense than anything," he said, "especially with Mike Piazza up there."

"He's got soft hands," Miller said. "That ball was a pea hit at him and you don't even hear it hit the glove."

Have glove will travel

When the Orioles signed veteran Ozzie Guillen as a free agent to compete for a utility job, questions were raised about the shortstop's ability to play more than one position. He may get to all of them this week.

Guillen started at first base yesterday for the first time this spring, one day after being inserted there in the ninth inning of a victory over the New York Mets. He started at second base Wednesday in Jupiter, and has spelled Mike Bordick at shortstop.

Yesterday, Guillen got the nod because Rafael Palmeiro stayed back in Fort Lauderdale. Roberto Alomar started at second and Bordick was the shortstop.

"He's played there in winter ball the last couple of years," Miller said. "If you've played shortstop, you can play anywhere."

Almost right stuff

Alomar hit right-handed during several rounds of batting practice yesterday. He still hasn't hit from that side in a game this spring, but Miller said "it will come pretty soon."

It could have come Thursday. Alomar, who had off-season surgery on his left shoulder, was given the choice of facing New York Mets left-hander Mark Mimbs, but decided not to try against a pitcher with a great changeup.

Erickson: no breaks

Scott Erickson wasn't the only Orioles pitcher to get lit up yesterday, just the first.

Making his second start, Erickson couldn't reach the five-inning limit set by Miller and pitching coach Mike Flanagan. He left after 3 2/3 , as the Dodgers were batting around and building a 9-1 lead.

Erickson allowed nine hits and was charged with seven earned runs (nine total). He retired the first six batters he faced, then walked Thomas Howard leading off the third -- a mistake he regretted more than any.

The Dodgers went on to score four times in the inning, aided by an error by catcher Chris Hoiles, then sent 10 batters to the plate in the fourth. Not every ball was hit hard -- Eric Young blooped a single to left-center in the third that tied the game, 1-1, and Eric Karros grounded a two-run single to left for a 4-1 lead -- but plenty of them were driven to the fence.

Many of the hits came off breaking balls that Erickson, who threw 65 pitches, might not have used during the season. "This is the best time to work on it, in the spring," he said.

Said Miller: "There were a couple situations where he normally would go with the sinker but he threw breaking balls."

The Dodgers finished with 20 hits off five Orioles pitchers. "You get the ball up, you get hit," Miller said. "One of the first three times you go out to pitch you're going to be a little dead-armed. It looked like people were dead-armed today."

That meant a busy day for center fielder Jesus Tavarez, who kept chasing balls in the gaps. "I think Tavarez might have to be packed in ice to go home. We ran him all over the state of Florida," Miller said.

Around the horn

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