Got his back: Miller to use Davis carefully Manager says limited time should make outfielder a more productive player

Orioles notebook

March 31, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Manager Ray Miller said he's satisfied that right fielder Eric Davis has recovered from back stiffness that limited his playing time the last week of the exhibition schedule. And he's ready to take preventive measures to assure the condition doesn't flare up during the season.

"I think he just needed to be freshened up," Miller said about Davis, who will start in today's opener and bat third. "I honestly just don't think he can play four or five days in a row right now. I think he'd give you a great effort, but if you can hold him to two out of three or start one out of three and play part of another initially, you're going to see a real good ballplayer."

Such a plan also means you could see more of Harold Baines in right field. He put on a glove for three games this spring, including Sunday, and did nothing to eliminate himself as one of Miller's options -- joining a cast that includes Jeffrey Hammonds and Joe Carter.

"He made a nice running catch on a real windy day," Miller said, recalling an earlier game in Florida. "I was a little upset because a couple of young writers down there tried to make a big deal about it the next day. Harold Baines was an everyday right fielder in the big leagues until his knees got to him. He's worked real hard. He's probably in better shape than all the young people we had in camp. He's worked on his legs.

"There was a ball hit into a gale blowing one way with multiple men on base, and he caught the ball going in. Everybody was acting like it was a big deal. It wasn't a big deal. He's a good major-league player."

One of the Orioles' more versatile players probably won't be included in the right-field mix. B. J. Surhoff spent one inning in center field during Saturday's game in Fort Lauderdale because Miller didn't want him in right, instead putting Jesus Tavarez there.

"He's used to being on that [left] side of the field and I don't really want to mess with him," Miller said. "But you could see anybody anywhere, believe me. If we've got a chance to tie the game, I'll use everybody. I don't care. And then we'll figure out who the heck goes where."

Hoiles thinks twice

Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles braced for a collision and then thought the better of it. This was the last exhibition game before today's season opener, an inopportune time to relive a not-so-fond memory.

As Hoiles received the throw from left fielder Surhoff in the first inning Sunday, he took a step back and applied a high tag to the New York Mets' Edgardo Alfonzo, who went in standing for the final out. Alfonzo's batting helmet flew off from the impact of Hoiles' mitt across his face.

Afterward, Hoiles said he still thinks about the torn ligament he suffered in his right knee after Montreal's F. P. Santangelo collided with him during a June 16 game at Camden Yards. He spent a month on the disabled list, then batted .229 the rest of the season.

Hoiles has been healthy and productive this spring, and saw no reason to jeopardize it by planting himself in front of the plate and taking on Alfonzo.

"The season hasn't even started yet. And that's how I missed all that time last year," said Hoiles, who hit his first home run Sunday and finished with a .341 average. "I'm not going to sit there and block the plate on a guy like that right now.

"It looked like he was going to run me over. I was just trying to step out of the way and make the tag. It just happened to be on his face."

Royals redux

Have the Orioles opened each season against the Kansas City Royals since the franchise came into existence, or does it just seem that way?

At least there's one change in store today: The Royals will start journeyman Tim Belcher rather than ace Kevin Appier, who is injured.

"We like that. Some of the guys are smiling," said catcher Lenny Webster, who won't start. "Belcher is tough, though. He throws three quality pitches. We have to look at him as their No. 1 guy."

Drilling it in

Miller said all the base-running drills this spring won't necessarily translate into a bevy of stolen bases, but they should aid an offense that too often falls into the trap of waiting for the three-run homer.

"We really worked hard on running the bases a little better, on all the fundamental things. And the guys were great," he said. "This is a veteran club and we worked on a lot of what people think are mundane things, but we kind of perfected some pickoff plays -- we picked off 10 people in 30 games -- we bunted probably a lot more than we have, we [used the] hit and run a lot more than we have. We really worked on situational hitting.

"We had rounds of batting practice where the count's 3-1 and there's two men on and they're running. If you take it, it's ball four, and if it's a strike, I'm counting on you hitting it somewhere. We worked on that stuff religiously, and I'm really proud that a veteran club would do that."

A catching convert

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