O's infield extends all way to outfield

Orioles notebook

Center fielder Mora is backup middle infielder

Myers retained, for now

April 01, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - The Orioles kept a promise yesterday. They headed north with center fielder Melvin Mora as their backup middle infielder, an arrangement more typical of American Legion than American League ball. An Opening Day bench comprised of catchers Fernando Lunar and Greg Myers, man of many gloves Mike Kinkade, first baseman Jay Gibbons and corner infielder Jeff Conine offers no relief for Mike Bordick or Jerry Hairston. Last summer, Mora struggled as the Orioles' late-season shortstop and never appeared as an infielder this spring.

"You have to prepare your mind [for moving]. It's not easy," Mora said before the Orioles concluded their spring schedule with a 6-5 win over the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. "I took ground balls, but I didn't play any spring training games there. I realize they know I can play the infield, which allows them to eventually carry another pitcher. But it's not easy."

Mora is a natural center fielder who was transplanted to the infield by the Houston Astros in 1997. Before arriving in the Orioles' starting lineup, he played in the Chinese Professional Baseball League and with the New York Mets for parts of three seasons. Of his 198 major-league appearances, 73 have been in the outfield.

"Whatever makes us a better team is OK with me," Mora said. "I'm going to give 100 percent effort wherever I play. But I'm not going to do something I'm not prepared for. If they ask me to catch, I'll tell them I can't catch."

Vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift said that Mora's flexibility has its limits. Although he might play some late-inning second base or shortstop, he would not be expected to replace either Bordick or Hairston in case of injury. "We'd call up somebody or look for a trade," Thrift said.

Myers survives

Given Lunar's status, Myers thought it almost certain he would be released or traded by now. Instead, tomorrow he'll again be introduced as an Oriole.

While a number of players filed in and out of manager Mike Hargrove's office yesterday, Myers heard nothing from either Hargrove or Thrift. Despite speculation he would start the season elsewhere, he took care to retain a Baltimore residence. How long he'll need it is another question.

Unwilling to release Myers because of this season's $1.2 million salary and $200,000 option buyout, the Orioles will use him as an occasional left-handed pinch hitter until someone agrees to their asking price for a backup catcher. The Orioles likely only postponed a decision as they will need to add a 12th pitcher in the next 10 days.

"Something is going to happen at some point," said Myers. "Until then, I'll stay patient."

Myers did nothing to hurt his standing this spring. He batted .311 with two home runs and five RBIs in 45 at-bats. Lunar, who is out of minor-league options, is considered a superior defensive catcher, which apparently leaves Myers competing with Gibbons as a left-handed pinch hitter. Rather than speculate on his future, Myers instead boarded the team bus.

"I don't know what to expect; it's weird," he said.

Johnson gets the word

Hargrove ended whatever intrigue remained about the status of Jason Johnson when he anointed him No. 3 starter.

Shortly before the club left for Thursday's exhibition in Port St. Lucie, Hargrove approached Johnson in the clubhouse.

"Did I tell you you were on the team?" Hargrove asked.

"No," answered Johnson.

"Did I tell you you were in the rotation?"

"No."

"Well, OK, you are. Congratulations," Hargrove said with a straight face.

The manager's wry announcement completed the most abrupt reversal of camp. Johnson yesterday allowed the Braves two earned runs in five innings to extend a solid spring. One year after being optioned to Rochester because of a confused spring training that snowballed into a 1-10 season, Johnson crafted a 2.33 ERA with only three walks in 27 innings. He surrendered more than two runs in only one of six starts.

Fearing he might distract Johnson, Hargrove postponed telling the pitcher until only two days remained in camp. "He was aggressive and he was throwing strikes," said Hargrove. "There were times last year I thought Jason pitched afraid and gave hitters too much credit. I talked to him until I was blue in the face about being in the strike zone and ... somewhere over the winter it kicked in."

Though Johnson has pitched in the majors the past four seasons, tomorrow marks the first time he will open a campaign on a major-league roster. "Something's always happened," said Johnson. "One year in Tampa Bay, I missed the first two weeks of the season then came up. This will be a first."

Wrap-up

Yesterday's exhibition with the Braves drew 25,649. Their fan base spoiled by nine consecutive division titles, the Braves do not expect to sell out Tuesday's home opener against the Cincinnati Reds. Nothing new there. The Braves have sold out their home opener just once since the park's opening in 1997. ... Camden Yards is sold out for tomorrow's opener. ... The Orioles concluded spring with an 18-13 record despite being outscored by five runs. They were 10-4 in one-run games.

Around the horn

THE NUMBER: 0 - Walks issued by Orioles pitching yesterday. They closed camp with 170 strikeouts vs. 63 walks.

INJURY REPORT: David Segui played nine innings at first base and doubled in four at-bats. His right hamstring will allow him to start tomorrow, but he remains limited on the bases. Buddy Groom faced seven hitters and appears over neck and lower back spasms.

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