Thrift says he's not candidate for GM He likes farm system role

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Key better

Baines worse

July 11, 1998|By Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko | Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Orioles director of player development Syd Thrift insisted yesterday he is "absolutely not" interested in succeeding Pat Gillick as general manager should Gillick choose not to return next season.

"I've made myself clear to everyone I've been associated with," said Thrift. "I'm not interested in the general manager's job. I'd just like to be able to do my job and find better ways to improve player performance."

Thrift, 69, former general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, was hired by the Orioles on Oct. 31, 1994, before Gillick and assistant general manager Kevin Malone were brought on board. Thrift has since remained a confidant of majority owner Peter Angelos despite occasional clashes with Gillick's office and manager Ray Miller. Among those also considered a possible successor to Gillick is current Cincinnati Reds general manager Jim Bowden, who worked with Thrift in Pittsburgh.

Gillick, on the final year of a three-year, $2.4 million contract, has given every indication that he won't return to the B&O Warehouse in 1999 while speculation mounts that he will land in Seattle or Phoenix as either general manager or president of the Mariners or Arizona Diamondbacks.

Thrift does not readily accept consistent criticism of a farm system ranked last by Baseball America in 1997. Injuries, trades, waiver claims and expansion have aggravated the condition since last season, leaving the Orioles without a ready pool to draw upon.

"Where are the players? Other places," said Thrift. "If you go all over baseball you can pick 'em all out. They're all over the place. We traded them to get the [Geronimo] Berroas and [Todd] Zeiles."

Key encouraged by session

Though stressing it's too early to start thinking about a rehab assignment, Orioles pitcher Jimmy Key was encouraged by his five-minute bullpen session before Thursday's game, saying "it's the best sign in a while."

It should get better today. Key is scheduled to throw again in his second session off a mound since going on the disabled list May 24, retroactive to May 21, with an inflamed left rotator cuff.

"It feels OK," said Key, who added that he threw at about 80 percent intensity.

Asked if he is encouraged by his progress, Key said, "Yeah, I would say that." But he's not prepared to set a timetable for his return.

"It's just way too early for any of that. I'll take it day-by-day. Hopefully, [today] will go well. But it'll be a while before I can think about a rehab game. I can't even begin to guess when that'll be."

"He told me he felt pretty good," said Miller. "I've still got to see him get extended, though, and see what happens."

Meanwhile, injured Orioles Jeffrey Hammonds and Scott Kamieniecki remain in Double-A Bowie on their rehab assignments.

Hammonds went 1-for-2 with two walks, two stolen bases and two runs scored in an 8-2 Bowie Baysox win in the first game of a doubleheader last night. Hammonds played six innings Thursday in New Britain, getting hit by a pitch but not reporting any discomfort from disk-related nerve irritation in his neck.

Kamieniecki threw 47 pitches in three innings, his first work since going on the DL on May 30, retroactive to May 23, with a bulging disk. He's scheduled to throw on the side today and make at least two more starts. "Kammy felt a little strangeness but that's about all I heard," Miller said.

Returning Baines reinjured

Harold Baines, making his first start since straining his left hamstring June 22, reinjured himself last night. Baines singled to begin the fourth inning, raising his team-leading average to .328. When Rafael Palmeiro followed with a single to right-center, Baines took a wide turn around second and abruptly stopped. He scored on a long sacrifice fly and was replaced as DH by Eric Davis, who hit the winning home run in the eighth.

Baines' return interrupted a streak of seven consecutive starts by Davis as the designated hitter. Davis has been unable to play in the outfield since being hit on the right elbow June 24 against the Mets. It's the same area where he's been plagued by bone chips. But he's begun to throw and soon could return to right field.

Vote for strength up middle

Amid speculation that the front office will begin breaking up baseball's most expensive team, starting with pending free agents Roberto Alomar and Palmeiro, Miller said he doesn't feel as though the Orioles are playing against the July 31 trading deadline. He also echoed Cal Ripken's sentiments of the previous night that he'd prefer the club to remain intact.

"It's the same thing I've been saying all along," he said. "With Robbie Alomar, the strength of a good ballclub is strength up the middle, and he's arguably one of the best second basemen in the game. I think that's something you build around. I'd hate to lose that. And if you trade Palmeiro, how do you replace that production?

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