Mills' spot on roster for opener may ride on showing today

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Reliever tests shoulder

Anderson says decisions based on last year unfair

Baseball

March 21, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Though the chances that he'll be available for Opening Day don't appear favorable, Orioles reliever Alan Mills will attempt to tilt the odds by pitching for the first time today against the Montreal Expos in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Mills hasn't appeared in a game since Sept. 3 in Cleveland, three months after the Orioles reacquired him from the Los Angeles Dodgers for reliever Al Reyes. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder before the season ended, and has voiced frustration at being "behind" this spring.

He had been restricted to throwing on the side and pitching batting practice, while the Orioles, careful not to rush him along, sought alternatives for his role in middle and short relief. Mills threw a simulated three-inning game on Friday, extending himself to 45 pitches, in his most significant activity since the surgery.

If he makes it through today's game without a setback, the Orioles could arrange for him to pitch every other day. The inability to remain on that schedule would keep him off the 25-man roster when the club heads north.

He's supposed to throw one inning today after Jason Johnson completes his fifth spring start. Manager Mike Hargrove said he hasn't talked to pitching coach Mark Wiley about using Mills on specific days until the team breaks camp.

"We'll see what he does tomorrow and adjust the plan according to that," Hargrove said before yesterday's 12-7 loss to the Dodgers.

Hargrove didn't sound optimistic that Mills would be included in the Orioles' bullpen on April 2 when they open against the Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards.

"I think we'd be pushing it," he said, "but we're not ready to close the door on that yet."

Reminder on injuries

Eugene Kingsale, Melvin Mora and Chris Richard have roamed center field this spring, with Brady Anderson in right. Given last year's second-half outfield realignment, it may appear Anderson's reign as Orioles center fielder is over. But Anderson believes if that decision has been made based solely on last year's performance, it is not a proper reading.

Anderson played last season after suffering a freakish nerve injury in his right leg that left his right foot without sensation. There were times he remembers running in the outfield without knowing where he was placing his foot. "A couple of times, I was in the cage with `Crow' [hitting coach Terry Crowley] and I fell down hitting," Anderson said. "It was weird. I didn't have pain, but I didn't have any feeling, either."

Anderson, 37, appears to be more mobile this spring. He's become an active player in the Orioles' aggressive base-running tactics and seems to be breaking better on fly balls. Still installed at leadoff, he appears poised for a stronger season than last year, when he hit .254 with 19 home runs and only 50 RBIs.

Hargrove said earlier this week that Anderson would see time in center this year, but that Mora was entrenched as his starter.

Anderson still prefers center field, but says it is no longer a major issue to him. He's complimentary about Mora's skills and understanding of Hargrove's position.

"Grover is a manager I respect very much. But he's working within an organization where other people have input as well," said Anderson. "If that's their decision, that's their decision."

If he has a regret, Anderson says it's being evaluated when he was less than 100 percent. "Somebody else might not have been out there playing with what I had," he said, referring to the nerve injury. "To look at that and say I can't run anymore, or I can't steal bases ... is a joke."

Big day for Fordyce

In one game, Orioles catcher Brook Fordyce threw out as many runners as he did last season after joining the Orioles. And in 34 fewer attempts.

Fordyce, acquired from the Chicago White Sox on July 29, cut down three Dodgers yesterday after leadoff hitter Tom Goodwin swiped second base in the first inning. He got Goodwin in the second and Paul Lo Duca and Jeff Barry in the fifth. Back-up Greg Myers replaced him in the sixth and was victimized by Goodwin.

With most of his concentration devoted to learning a new pitching staff, Fordyce was 3-for-38 with the Orioles last season and drew unfavorable comparisons to Charles Johnson, the four-time Gold Glove winner who went to the White Sox in the trade. Fordyce vowed this spring to improve those numbers. Yesterday provided quite a demonstration.

There was more to Fordyce's arsenal than his throwing arm. He also had a run-scoring single in the first inning and homered off Jeff Shaw in the sixth, a hit that struck the scoreboard in right field.

Around the horn

THE NUMBER: .400 -- Average of Orioles first baseman Chris Richard, who's 18-for-45 with six RBIs.

INJURY UPDATE: First baseman David Segui continues to receive treatment for a strained right hamstring, and is expected back in the lineup this week. He's missed seven consecutive games. "I talked to him today and he said it feels a lot better," Hargrove said. "He's got 20 at-bats [actually 16]. It's better to be safe than sorry."

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