FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - No longer the Orioles' starting center fielder, Melvin Mora could be designated as their fastest healer.
Mora has regained most of the flexibility in his left hand after breaking the ring finger during a winter league game in Venezuela in late January. Told that he'd be wearing a cast for four weeks, Mora said doctors removed it after only 12 days and he was told to begin therapy.
"I'm not 100 percent yet, because there's still a bruise in the hand, but it feels great," he said before a closed-door meeting signaled the beginning of the Orioles' first full-squad workout.
Three fingers on the hand swelled from the injury, which occurred as Mora dived into second base on an attempted steal. Rather than make contact with the bag, Mora's hand slammed into the second baseman's right knee.
"My finger was pushed to the other side," he said.
Beginning his second full season with the Orioles after coming over in a July 2000 trade, Mora said he should be ready to swing a bat "maybe in a week" if given medical clearance. Asked about Opening Day, when he'll likely fill a utility role after last month's trade for center fielder Chris Singleton, he said: "Oh, I'll be ready before that. I'll be ready maybe by March 15." The Orioles' first game is April 1.
"The doctors told me the bone has grown faster. I don't know how it did it, but it's grown faster," he said.
A spot for B. Roberts?
Orioles manager Mike Hargrove won't declare an open competition at second base or shortstop. He also won't shut any doors concerning Brian Roberts' chances of making the Opening Day roster.
Hargrove expresses the importance of a young prospect like Roberts getting consistent at-bats and innings rather than sitting on the bench for extended periods. Remaining active would be much easier for the former supplemental pick at Triple-A Rochester, which puts Hargrove in the awkward stance of explaining how Roberts could stick around in a utility role.
What seems a conflict of interests could become a reality. Roberts needs to play regularly, but might be too valuable to lose.
"Obviously, Mike Bordick's our shortstop. It's his job to lose. Jerry Hairston's our second baseman. It's his job to lose. He's in the competition in that regard," Hargrove said.
"If Brian Roberts goes out and has a tremendous spring and Jerry doesn't, that doesn't necessarily mean that Brian will be our second baseman and Jerry won't. There are more things that go into it than just looking at the numbers. But I'm not going to sit here and say he doesn't have a chance to make the ballclub. Ideally, you'd rather have Brian out there playing, but the possibility of utility is there."
Roberts said he's simply trying to make the club in any capacity. "I don't care where it is," he said. "I don't look at it as a competition against another person. I'm just going out there and trying to do my job the way I can. The rest will be up to them."
Roberts made 47 starts at shortstop and seven at second base with the Orioles. He was used mostly at second in the Arizona Fall League.
Bigbie ready for Rochester
If outfielder Larry Bigbie is rerouted to the minor-league camp this spring, with his ticket punched for Triple-A Rochester, he'll more than understand. He'll also endorse the move.
Rushed to the majors last season as the club's injuries mounted, Bigbie hit .229 in 131 at-bats spread over three call-ups. He wasn't ready for this level of competition, not after being taken with the 21st overall pick in the 1999 draft, but the Orioles had little choice.
Assuming they can hold together this spring, even with Chris Richard unable to play in the field until around the All-Star break, Bigbie should build on the 42 at-bats he received at Rochester last year.
"At this point in my career, I don't want to compete for the fourth or fifth outfield spot," said Bigbie, 24, who's blocked by Marty Cordova, Singleton and Jeff Conine, with Mora the first reserve. "I think it would be in my best interest to go back to Triple-A and get my at-bats. That's not a slap in the face to me. I'm still real young.
"I was pushed a little bit ahead of my program when I made the big leagues last year. If I go back to Triple-A, I think I could refine everything. I don't want to be stuck as a fourth outfielder this early in my career. I've had my taste of [the majors]. Some guys who haven't might say, `I just want to be in the big leagues,' and that might have been the case with me if I hadn't already been there."
Bigbie spent about 1 1/2 months in the Dominican Winter League before returning early to his Indiana home - a decision that rankled at least one club official.
"I pretty much had enough," he said. "I knew I needed at-bats, but I wasn't able to maintain. I didn't figure I was going to be able to come here to spring training and get ready for a full season. I wanted to come home and get into a good workout program."