Orioles' roster nearly finalized

Linton, Johnson likely to go down

Hoiles keeps spot for now

April 02, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

VIERA, Fla. -- The Florida portion of the Orioles' spring training tour ended yesterday, with the next stop being Atlanta for tonight's exhibition game against the Braves. The club then goes to Birmingham, Ala., to play the Philadelphia Phillies tomorrow before the gates swing open at Camden Yards.

It became more obvious yesterday which players will be on the other side.

Outfielder Mike Murphy, infielder Esteban Beltre, catcher Tommy Davis and pitcher David Evans were reassigned to the minor-league camp in Sarasota. They'll remain with the Orioles until after today's game. Outfielders Eugene Kingsale and Johnny Isom and infielder Augie Ojeda also are being sent back to Sarasota after the trip to Atlanta.

The moves leave manager Ray Miller with 27 players, not including second baseman Delino DeShields and pitcher Scott Kamieniecki, who will go on the disabled list. With Miller wanting to take 11 pitchers north, the last two cuts appear certain to be right-handers Doug Linton and Jason Johnson, who would bide their time at Triple-A Rochester.

Miller indicated yesterday that there's a chance he could stay with 11 pitchers beyond the first week of the season, improving the odds of Chris Hoiles remaining in Baltimore rather than the club choosing between him and Willis Otanez for the job of right-handed designated hitter and reserve first baseman.

"Like I said, one of the things I wanted to come out of here with was a very versatile bench, people I can put in who can play multiple positions," Miller said. "You can pinch-run for somebody and not lose a thing defensively. That's good."

Miller won't need a fifth starter until April 11 unless he pushes back Sidney Ponson's turn to that date and uses somebody else on April 9. Either way, if Miller wants to keep 11 pitchers, as he did when camp broke last spring, he'll need to clear room either when Kamieniecki returns from the DL or another arm is added from the minor leagues.

"We'd drop a bullpen guy eventually, if we stayed with 11," Miller said, careful not to commit to anything this soon.

Miller understands the gamble of not having a 12th pitcher in the fold. He was reminded of that when the Orioles were extended to 13 innings by the Florida Marlins on Wednesday night.

"What if you have to play back-to-back games like that and you're looking at 48,000 paying customers and no bullpen. Somebody having to take one on the chin, and you'd much rather do that on the road than at home," he said.

The Orioles broke camp with 11 pitchers last spring, keeping utility infielder Ozzie Guillen instead of left-hander Doug Johns. With no true long man in the bullpen, it nearly collapsed from overuse. Guillen didn't hit in his limited opportunities and was released May 1.

"This year, with [Ricky] Bones for sure, Johns and possibly Linton, you've got the potential for two starters going every day -- the guy who's starting and the guy who's sitting out there who can come in if they don't have it, without messing with your bullpen," Miller said.

Barring a last-minute deal, the 14 position players coming north will be outfielders B. J. Surhoff, Brady Anderson, Albert Belle and Rich Amaral, infielders Cal Ripken, Mike Bordick, Jeff Reboulet, Will Clark, Otanez and Jesse Garcia, catchers Charles Johnson and Lenny Webster, and designated hitters Hoiles and Harold Baines.

Otanez is out of options and can't be sent to the minors without passing through waivers. Garcia gives the club a backup middle infielder while Reboulet starts for DeShields, who has just begun swinging a bat after fracturing his left thumb on March 4.

Hoiles, in the final season of a five-year contract, started at first base yesterday and went 1-for-3 with an RBI in the Orioles' 2-0 victory over the Florida Marlins at Space Coast Stadium. He had talked earlier this spring of retiring if released by the Orioles, and expressed frustration at a lack of communication with club officials regarding their plans for him.

Before yesterday's game, Miller said it would be a "tough call" whether the club decided Hoiles' fate before Opening Day or waited until later.

"It depends on the health of everyone else, how well he does. We are going to face lefties right out of the box," Miller said.

That bodes well for the right-handed-hitting Hoiles, who no longer can catch because of soreness in his hip.

"There's an old axiom in sports," Miller said. "If you've got three players, one you've got to keep and other two you don't know what to do with, the first thing you do is check the rules and see how you can keep both. If you have the choice available to you, try to take advantage of it."

Hoiles' range at first base is limited, with another ball getting between him and the line yesterday. He's also batting .189 with one extra-base hit, though he has crushed some balls that have been caught. But by appearing in 21 of 25 games, he's also proved that his physical condition won't influence his availability.

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