DeShields takes center stage

Orioles notebook

Infielder gets OF audition

Hargrove: `one more option'

March 17, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Which site seemed the most unusual yesterday, Delino DeShields standing in center field or Garth Brooks in left?

Orioles manager Mike Hargrove inserted DeShields, who began the game at second base, for Eugene Kingsale in the sixth inning. It was the first time he had roamed that part of the field this spring. It won't be the last.

The first ball hit in his direction, by Melvin Mora, easily cleared his head and struck the top of the fence for a triple. DeShields had two put-outs, including a liner by Brooks to open the ninth inning, in the Orioles' 9-3 victory over the New York Mets at Thomas J. White Stadium.

DeShields never has played the outfield in a regular-season game, though the St. Louis Cardinals were considering a move to center if they had re-signed him before last season. All of his time has been at second except for 10 games at shortstop in 1994 and one at first base in 1998. The last time he roamed center was at Seaford (Del.) High School.

Hargrove had said earlier in camp that he wanted to evaluate DeShields in center, a switch that could become more frequent if Brady Anderson remains unavailable because of nerve irritation in his left foot. It also would allow Hargrove to play both DeShields and second baseman Jerry Hairston at the same time.

"It's a curiosity at this point," Hargrove said. "It's certainly not a position change. It just gives you one more option if you get into an injury situation or an extra-inning ballgame. It's certainly not a position change by any stretch of the imagination.

"I'm looking at his ability to track the ball in the outfield, get good jumps on the ball. We're not looking for a big arm out there. You're not going to see that no matter how many times you put him out there. But Delino understands the game of baseball. He understands what it takes to play winning baseball. It's part of that major-league experience that he has."

DeShields had to borrow an outfielder's glove for his debut. "I think I might have to get one, though," he said.

"It's not that easy. I'm just glad I had the chance to get out there. It's probably more difficult to go out there in Yankee Stadium."

Brooks: another sad song

Brooks, who's in the Mets camp, entered the game as a pinch-runner in the sixth inning and later replaced Benny Agbayani in left field.

With the crowd roaring, Brooks came to the plate in the seventh against left-hander Buddy Groom. Looking for his first hit this spring, he ran the count to 3-0 before taking a strike. He then sent a high chopper in front of the mound that Groom fielded for the last out.

Brooks' spring futility reached 0-for-13 when he lined to center off Mike Trombley in the ninth. He had two balls hit to him -- singles by Albert Belle and Mike Bordick -- and fielded both of them cleanly.

Being in uniform is a way for Brooks to publicize his "Touch 'Em All Foundation," which has raised $1.8 million for children's charities since being incorporated in January 1999. He was in the San Diego Padres camp last spring, going 1-for-22 in 15 games. He's appeared in 11 games this spring, with four strikeouts among his 13 at-bats.

Catcher Greg Myers, who was in the Padres camp with Brooks last spring, said the strategy was to pitch the singer "down and away." That is, until the count reached 3-0.

"Down the middle," he said.

Amaral in good position

Rich Amaral won't let himself think about it. He's told that Hargrove would be "very surprised" if anyone took Amaral's job as an extra outfielder, but the words are tuned out.

What would be welcomed news to some is seen as a distraction by Amaral.

"Maybe it's because I've been around for a while," said Amaral, who turns 38 on April 1. "Not that it's not important to me, but I know it doesn't help me the way that I play. And anything that doesn't help me, I just try to block it out."

Amaral began yesterday hitting .400 (10-for-25) with four RBIs and four steals that tied him for first in the American League. He's swung the bat especially well in the past week, with more opportunities coming because of injuries to outfielders Anderson and B.J. Surhoff and infielder/outfielder Jeff Conine. Amaral played in his 10th game yesterday, starting in left field for Surhoff.

Extra time spent with hitting coach Terry Crowley hasn't hurt, either.

"Working with Crow always gets me locked in," he said. "That's something I do during the season every day when I'm not playing. It keeps me sharp."

The group of competitors for Amaral's spot can't match his numbers. Switch-hitting Kingsale, who probably will be the center fielder at Triple-A Rochester this season, is 5-for-22. Wayne Kirby, who offers the appeal of a left-handed bat with some pop, is hitting 3-for-24 with one homer. Billy Ashley, a former minor league Player of the Year in the Los Angeles Dodgers' system, is 1-for-5 with one homer -- a massive blow that cleared a row of palm trees beyond the left field fence in Viera.

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