O's go north in nick of time

Team breaks camp, heads for exhibitions in Atlanta, Tennessee

Spring results are mixed

Clark, DeShields show they're physically set

March 31, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

JUPITER, Fla. -- The Orioles didn't look like much in yesterday's 4-1 exhibition loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, but they were too busy packing their bags to let it bother them.

"I'm real ready to get out of Florida," said manager Mike Hargrove. "I think that is part of the way we played today."

That about sums up spring training. Can't wait to get there. Can't wait to go home and start the season.

The Orioles broke camp yesterday and headed north. They'll play a game against the Atlanta Braves tonight at Turner Field and travel to Chattanooga, Tenn., for a final exhibition against the Cincinnati Reds tomorrow. And then, ready or not, they'll open the regular season against the Cleveland Indians on Monday at Camden Yards.

"You don't get a whole lot from your veteran players the first three games and the last three games of spring training," Hargrove said. "Physically, they were in the game today, but mentally they're thinking about starting the season."

All things considered, the six weeks the Orioles spent in Fort Lauderdale were productive, if not particularly encouraging. First baseman Will Clark and second baseman Delino DeShields proved themselves healthy after missing much of the 1999 season with injuries. Third baseman Cal Ripken showed that his surgically repaired back could stand the rigors of spring workouts and regular exhibition play. The Orioles got through it all with just one major loss -- the elbow injury that will keep Scott Erickson out of the rotation for the first three or four weeks of the season.

"I think it was [successful]," said Clark. "We had some guys have really good springs and -- knock on wood -- the only major injury was Scotty. So, I think it was a very good camp."

It was a very important camp for Clark, who was limited to just 77 games by injuries last year. He batted just .219, but expressed confidence that he is ready to have a productive season.

"I felt I did everything I needed to do," said Clark. "I probably didn't get as many hits as I'd like down here, but that's not the key. The key is making good contact."

"Now, going north with a little more adrenalin, that's going to help out a lot."

DeShields left little to chance after a variety of injuries kept him from playing regularly last year. Forced to compete with up-and-coming Jerry Hairston for the starting role at second base, he led the club in hitting for much of the spring and enters the final weekend of the exhibition season at least tied for the club lead in doubles, home runs and RBIs.

Of course, there remain several areas of uncertainty as Opening Day approaches.

Ripken has been able to play regularly, but he has just eight hits in 57 at-bats and only one for extra bases. He'll resume the countdown to 3,000 on Monday, but he'll have to turn up the volume dramatically if he wants to get the necessary nine hits during the opening six-game homestand.

Center fielder Brady Anderson still isn't 100 percent after the nerve injury that left him with a loss of sensation in his left leg, but he has swung the bat well since returning to the lineup.

He won't guarantee that he will be ready to play full time when the season begins, but he appears to be ready for Opening Day.

"You're never guaranteed your next game," he said. "This was just one of the ups and downs every player goes through. I don't consider it a major setback. If I can play, I'll play."

The club will enter the season with a piecemeal starting rotation and enough lesser questions to fill a game show. Club officials scoured Florida and Arizona for pitching help, but the only acquisition of any consequence was the signing yesterday of journeyman utility man David Howard to a minor-league contract -- and he apparently will not be on the Opening Day roster.

Still, Hargrove says he is optimistic as he begins his first season as Orioles manager.

"I am optimistic about the ballclub," he said. "I'm not going to come out and say we're going to win the American League East or the World Series. we're in a tough division but I think we are capable of competing in this division. We'll go as far as our pitching takes us."

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