Howard signed to minor-league contract


Veteran plays 7 positions

Hargrove says nothing is `imminent' on trades


March 31, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

JUPITER, Fla. -- Manager Mike Hargrove said there's "nothing imminent" on the trade front, though vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift continues to work the phones. The most dynamic move the Orioles made yesterday was signing veteran David Howard, who played seven positions last season, to a minor-league contract.

Howard, a career .229 hitter in nine seasons, was released by the Colorado Rockies this spring after going 5-for-25. He spent seven seasons with the Kansas City Royals and the past two with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Howard mostly has played shortstop, a position that needs to be filled at Rochester. The other alternative is Eddy Martinez, who made 36 errors at Single-A Frederick last year.

Thrift denied that Howard could open the season in Baltimore or that the club is dissatisfied with Jesus Garcia, who has committed five errors this spring. Thrift said he wanted an experienced player who could shuttle between Rochester and the Orioles, especially if Garcia can't get off the bench in the majors. He doesn't want Garcia sitting for too long, the same reason infielder Jerry Hairston will return to Rochester on April 9 when a 12th pitcher is added.

"I don't want [Garcia] to read this that he's got to try harder to keep his position," Thrift said. "I've been looking for someone I can send up and down so nobody will get stale from inactivity."

Howard has 11 career homers in the majors. He'll be remembered by many of the Orioles for hitting three against them last spring.

Erickson shows progress

Hargrove still isn't certain when Scott Erickson will rejoin the rotation, but he's been encouraged by the progress made by his No. 2 starter. For now, Erickson's still projected to return at the beginning of May, though late next month remains a possibility.

Erickson threw off a mound for about nine minutes on Wednesday, the second time he attempted this since having bone chips removed from his right elbow on March 3.

"He threw the heck out of the ball," Hargrove said. "He just said his arm strength isn't quite where it should be, but that's understandable."

It's difficult for Hargrove to set a timetable for Erickson's return because he's still rehabbing. Once he's turned over to the baseball people, like Hargrove pitching coach Sammy Ellis, it will be easier to gauge his readiness. He'll be able to throw batting practice or a simulated game.

When will that occur? "We're getting close to it," Hargrove said.

"I look for him to be back by the first of the month, if not before, as we sit here. Now, something may happen tomorrow that would set him back. I don't know. But I think that we'll probably have him back sooner rather than later."

With the April rotation including two pitchers, Calvin Maduro and Jose Mercedes, who didn't pitch in the majors last season, the Orioles are banking on sooner. Hargrove indicated yesterday that the fragile condition of the pitching staff probably wouldn't influence the club to skip a minor-league rehab assignment or cut it short. But he also left himself some wiggle room.

"I can say that now. If we get into it and we're scuffling like a duck in a desert, it may be that we want to do that," Hargrove said.

"Right now, I think he'd be better served to go out for at least a certain period, get him throwing in a competitive situation to live hitters."

Final cuts tomorrow

With the Orioles concluding the Florida portion of their exhibition schedule yesterday, Hargrove said he wouldn't make the final roster cuts until before or immediately after tomorrow's game against the Cincinnati Reds in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Though the announcement won't come until then, Hargrove said the decisions have been made. The four players expected to be eliminated are Mercedes, catcher Willie Morales and outfielders Wayne Kirby and Derrick May.

Mercedes has made the club as its fifth starter, but will pitch at the minor-league camp in Sarasota, Fla., on Tuesday before starting on April 9 against the Detroit Tigers at Camden Yards.

Myers sits with strain

Catcher Greg Myers was kept out of yesterday's game because of what Hargrove described as "a little hamstring strain."

"It's nothing serious," Hargrove added.

Morales made the start, the 14th game he's appeared in this spring. He began yesterday 7-for-13 with four RBIs. Three of them came on his only homer.

Morales, 27, signed with the Orioles as a minor-league free agent in December. He spent most of last season with Oakland's Double-A Midland affiliate, committing only two errors in 81 games and leading Texas League catchers with a .996 fielding percentage. He's moved ahead of Tommy Davis for the starting job at Triple-A Rochester this summer.

"I like the way he receives the ball. He works the staff and he swings the bat well," Hargrove said.

"Batting is probably the least of his skills, but he's still good."

Morales showed off his arm yesterday by throwing out former Oriole Eric Davis trying to steal in the third inning. He went 0-1 with a walk and was hit by a pitch, leaving his average at .500 (7-for-14).

"When you come into a new organization, you want to make an impression," Morales said. "The only way you can do that is if you get an opportunity, which is something I never really had with Oakland. It was a frustrating time for me but that's all behind me. I couldn't be happier to be over here. I got more playing time than I ever could have expected or hoped for."

Kingsale on 15-day DL

Outfielder Eugene Kingsale has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right quadriceps muscle. His option to Triple-A Rochester was voided Wednesday because of the transaction.

Kingsale, who is expected to start in center field for the Red Wings, batted .229 with four RBIs in 16 games.

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