Clark arrives

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Otanez on way out

Designated for assignment, 3B says no to Rochester

May 26, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Admitting a failed project, the Orioles yesterday made room for first baseman Will Clark's return to active duty by designating 26-year-old rookie third baseman Willis Otanez for assignment. The move, announced after the club completed Monday's six-hour trek from Baltimore to Orange County, Calif., effectively severs Otanez's ties to the organization one season after he drove in 100 runs at Triple-A Rochester and less than two months after the club exposed its delicate pitching staff in order to protect him from a waiver claim.

Otanez batted .213 with two home runs and 11 RBIs in 80 at-bats, most of them coming as the replacement for Cal Ripken during the Iron Man's four-week stay on the disabled list.

The club leader in home runs this spring, Otanez carried his reputation as a free-swinger from Rochester to Baltimore, much to the frustration of manager Ray Miller. Otanez struck out 16 times, compiled a club-low .273 on-base percentage and struggled to make adjustments at this level. Miller eventually backed away from using him when he perceived Otanez carrying his offensive problems into the field.

Miller played Otanez only once in the six games before last night and had last given him a start May 10. Otanez was hitless in his last 11 at-bats and 8-for-53 (.151) since his average crested at .346 April 21, the day after the club placed Ripken on the disabled list.

"He was in there every day for almost three weeks," Miller said. "I think that's a good look. I have no complaints about his work ethic. He's a great kid. But when I project him for the future, I don't know if he's going to be better defensively. I can see some potential with the bat if you're comfortable giving him playing time every day for a year or two."

The move hardly surprised Otanez. He spoke with his agent, Alan Nero, on Monday and was told to expect it. However, Otanez was still peeved that the club didn't put him through waivers immediately rather than leave him in limbo for the next 10 days.

"What am I supposed to do now?" Otanez said. "I should be playing somewhere. Now I can only go home and wait."

The Orioles will likely lose Otanez the same way they obtained him. General manager Frank Wren has 10 days to trade Otanez. (He has tried already but found no takers.) Failing to do so, Wren must put him through waivers. If Otanez clears waivers, he can then sign elsewhere as a free agent. The Orioles obtained Otanez from the Seattle Mariners via a waiver claim in February 1996.

Otanez informed the club that he has no intention of accepting a possible assignment to Rochester.

Surhoff keeps rolling

Left fielder B. J. Surhoff has flourished so well in the No. 3 spot in the batting order that Miller refused to oust him following Clark's return. Since taking over the No. 3 hole, Surhoff had batted .368 (43-for-117) and entered last night riding a 14-game hitting streak, tied for the fourth-longest in the American League this season.

During the streak Surhoff had lifted his average from .326 to .352 and included 10 multi-hit games, four doubles, four home runs and 15 RBIs. Backed by cleanup hitter Albert Belle, Surhoff had walked only three times during his streak.

"He's a player you appreciate more if you watch him play every day," said Miller. "He's a solid hitter, an outstanding fielder and a great base runner."

Reflecting for a moment, Miller chuckled, "Most of the time."

Around the horn

Brady Anderson entered last night eighth in the league with 36 runs and barely out of the top 10 with a .421 on-base percentage. Belle finds himself among the league leaders in two fresh categories -- first in walks (43) and tied for fifth (four) in outfield assists.

Pub Date: 5/26/99

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