Orioles break camp, give it merit badge Miller: Club met goals

6 weeks 'phenomenal

March 29, 1998|By ROCH KUBATKO | ROCH KUBATKO,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Tornadoes and torrential downpours couldn't disrupt his club's schedule. Neither could overturned trucks, highway spillages and other hazards that put an added challenge into excessive spring training travel.

No wonder Orioles manager Ray Miller felt as though he had been blessed during his six weeks here. "We didn't miss anything. It's phenomenal."

It's also over.

The Orioles flew the coop last night after losing to the New York Mets, 4-0, heading north with some unanswered questions and a strong dose of satisfaction. They wrap up the exhibition season today against the Mets at Camden Yards, a dress rehearsal for Tuesday's Opening Day that likely will bring the official announcement of the 25-man roster and clarity to some hazy health issues.

Miller's first camp as Orioles manager largely went as he had planned. And hoped.

Veterans were understanding of his obsession with fundamentals. The catchers took to his accelerated throwing program. Pitchers got in their innings, hitters their at-bats. The club avoided any major injuries, though the smaller ones were beginning to pile up. And as an added perk, the Orioles (17-9-2) won almost twice as many games as they lost.

"I don't think there's anybody out there, to my knowledge, who has a complaint about playing time or what they need or extra work, knowing what the heck is going on," Miller said. "Hopefully this summer I'm going to be able to do the same thing."

The only players Miller said were "shorted" this spring were catcher Lenny Webster and pitcher Scott Kamieniecki.

Webster has been held to 27 at bats in 13 games because of inflammation in his right elbow that limited his throwing.

Kamieniecki had to skip Tuesday's start because of back spasms, but is scheduled to follow Doug Drabek today and work two or three innings.

Left fielder B. J. Surhoff missed two weeks with an injury to the ring finger on his right hands but has made up for lost time. In 14 games, Surhoff is 13-for-42 (.310) with two home runs. He took most of yesterday off, lining a pinch-hit double in the eighth and playing center field.

Since the first day of camp, Miller has been placing a big demand on his club doing the little things-pickoffs, bunting, hitting behind the runner, taking the extra base. And to his delight, the players have been receptive.

"I think it's been a successful spring," said shortstop Mike Bordick. "We did a lot of things right as far as execution. Everybody's got a good feeling about this team and what we need to do."

"Every year that you go to spring training you always work on fundamentals," said infielder Jeff Reboulet, "but Ray has a few extra things he wants done, things you work a little harder on. I think we've done pretty well at that. It definitely works to your benefit. It's all part of winning and being a good team. A lot of that is preparation."

The surprises in camp have been pleasant ones for Miller, including the rapid progression of third baseman Ryan Minor, who has gone from the lower Single-A level to hitting .304 in 46 at-bats.

"It doesn't take a brain surgeon to see he's a good prospect," Miller said.

It also doesn't take a genius to, appreciate how infielder P. J. Forbes and outfielder Jesus Tavarez used their time in camp to go from virtual unknowns a few months ago to viable options if the Orioles need help this season.

"P. J. Forbes is a player," Miller, ' said. "He can do everything. He's got pop, he can run a little bit, he can play any position. If we have ' an injury to anybody in the middle of the field, this guy can play. And Tavarez can play every position in the outfield." Miller also raves about Jeffrey Hammonds, who has the security; of a new three-year contract to go ' along with a .321 batting average, four home runs and 16 RBIs. And catcher Chris Hoiles, who is healthy and hitting .333.

Hoiles could be especially busy if Webster begins the year on the Disabled list, which would force Shim to miss the first six games.

"I'll take it," Hoiles said. "I'm -not going to turn it down. It's totally up to [Miller], but I'll tales the work with open arms."

Speaking of arms, the time in camp also has validated Miller's belief that there's room in the bullpen for more than one closer. Armando Benitez (three saves) has allowed one earned run in 13 innings. Left-hander Norm Charlton (two saves) had thrown four consecutive scoreless innings before giving up a home run yesterday. And left-hander Arthur Rhodes (three saves) has given up just one run in his last six appearances covering 61/3 innings.

"I've been impressed with Benitez since January," Miller said. "This guy just bought half the Dominican Republic, but he was in Baltimore working out every day. He's been here at 7 o'clock every morning along with Harold Baines, the first ones here."

Providing further comfort to Miller are the two straight scoreless innings thrown by maligned right-hander Terry Mathews, and the recent success of Alan Mills. More reasons for the manager to feel good as Camp Happy closes for the spring.

Miller knew for sure club's work here was done after watching Joe Carter's first two at bats Friday in Jupiter. Unable to make solid contact for much of the spring, Carter flied to the left-field wall and doubled.

"Joe's been struggling a little bit as far as getting hits, then he rakes two balls," Miller said. "It's time to go north."

Carter went 0-for-3 yesterday, grounding out twice and striking out. But there's no turning back now.

Orioles today

Exhibition opponent N.Y. Mets

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 1:35 p.m.

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Pub Date: 3/29/98

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