Hairston's play makes it hard to 2nd notion job is DeShields'

Orioles notebook

Veteran clear front-runner, but youngster sparkles in return from groin pull

March 15, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Barring an injury or trade, second base belongs to Delino DeShields. Orioles manager Mike Hargrove has made that point clear since early in spring training, saying that when healthy, DeShields has proved himself to be a quality major-league player.

The debate should end there.

If only Jerry Hairston weren't keeping it alive.

Playing yesterday for the first time in a week, Hairston went 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored in the Orioles' 9-7 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Hammond Stadium. His six hits are one more than DeShields has in nine fewer at-bats. Both players have one home run, with DeShields clearing the right-field bleachers at Fort Lauderdale Stadium on Sunday.

Hairston hadn't faced live pitching since last Tuesday night, when he pulled a groin muscle while running out a double March 7. He ran for Harold Baines on Monday but wasn't used in the field.

Showing no signs of the injury yesterday, Hairston lined a double to left in the first inning and singled to right in the third to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead. One batter later, Calvin Pickering drilled an opposite-field, three-run homer off former 20-game winner Brad Radke.

Hairston also poked a one-out single to right field in the fifth, moving Rich Amaral into scoring position, and walked in the seventh to load the bases.

"It's just good to be out there and getting the opportunity to play again," he said.

With the Twins batting in the fifth, Hairston ranged far to his right to field a bouncer from Luis Rivas and flip the ball to Jesus Garcia for the forceout. By the time Hairston had made the play, he was to the shortstop side of the bag. One batter later, he dived to his left to field a grounder by Robin Jennings and record the out as the Twins' first run scored.

The game ended in appropriate fashion, with Hairston making a diving stop to his left, spinning and throwing from his knees on the outfield grass with the tying runs on base.

Asked again about the competition at second base, Hargrove reiterated that DeShields has the edge. All ties go to him. Anything close goes to him.

"He's going to have to play noticeably better than DeShields to win the job," Hargrove said. "For me, that's the way it's got to be for the simple reason that Delino is an established major-league player."

Hairston isn't letting such talk distract from his spring. He's not even disputing it.

"In a sense, I think he's right. You give the major-leaguer with the most experience the benefit of the doubt," said Hairston, who hasn't committed an error this spring. DeShields has one.

"With me, I don't really care. I just go out and play and have fun. I'm going to play hard every game, no matter what, whether someone's in front of me or I'm the guy. When I'm out there, I don't think about Delino or anything else, just winning ballgames."

Pitch hits Surhoff in head

The crowd let out a collective gasp yesterday that almost sucked the wind out of Hammond Stadium.

Batting in the fifth inning, B. J. Surhoff was hit near the top of his head by a pitch from Twins left-hander Mark Redman. He collapsed to the ground but quickly got to his feet and walked to first base as trainer Richie Bancells raced from the dugout. Surhoff glanced in Redman's direction and offered a few choice words but never broke stride.

"B. J. was too mad to do anything," Hargrove said. "It's a scary thing. When somebody ducks out of the way, the helmet has a tendency to slide off. But the helmet did its job."

Javier de la Hoya, who replaced starter Mike Mussina, hit the first batter he faced in the bottom of the fifth. It was an off-speed pitch that grazed Matt LeCroy's back as he turned away. A few fans yelled "payback" as LeCroy trotted to first, but de la Hoya's disgusted reaction suggested the pitch was accidental.

Amaral's hits keep coming

Amaral collected his eighth and ninth hits of the spring, moving past shortstop Mike Bordick for the club lead. He also reached on an error in the fifth, and heads to Port Charlotte today batting .428 with four RBIs and four steals in nine games.

Amaral has taken a huge lead in the race for the fourth outfielder's job. Hargrove said Monday that he would be "very surprised" if anyone unseated Amaral, who batted .277 in 91 games last season and has a year left on his contract.

10 don't make the cut

The Orioles reduced their spring training roster to 44 by cutting 10 players from their major-league camp.

None of the moves were especially surprising. Catchers Jayson Werth and Joe DePastino and pitchers Sean Maloney and Matt Ryan were reassigned to minor-league camp. Pitcher Richard Negrette was optioned to Triple-A Rochester. Pitcher Juan Aracena, infielders Carlos Casimiro and Ivanon Coffie and outfielder Luis Matos were optioned to Double-A Bowie. And pitcher Juan Guzman was optioned to Single-A Frederick.

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