Garcia taking aim at earning a spot on Opening Day roster

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

With dream of playing in U.S. still alive, he eyes O's last outfield position

Baseball

March 15, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

JUPITER, Fla. -- Luis Garcia came to the Orioles wanting to take one more shot at playing in the United States. So far, he hasn't done much to hurt those chances.

Signed in November as a minor-league free agent, Garcia survived the first round of cuts and continues to be evaluated by manager Mike Hargrove and the coaching staff. They haven't dismissed him from the competition for the last outfield spot -- assuming the Orioles don't decide instead to keep an extra infielder -- and Garcia hasn't given up on the possibility of being included on the Opening Day roster.

"So far I feel good hitting-wise and defensive-wise," he said.

Starting in center field on Wednesday, Garcia contributed a run-scoring single to aid the Orioles' 6-5 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. He went 1-for-2 last night, and is now batting .357 with four RBIs in 14 at-bats.

Garcia, 26, has spent the past three seasons playing in the Mexican League. He ranked ninth last season with a .332 average, hitting 19 homers with 82 RBIs. He opened the season with a 25-game hitting streak and homered in five straight games. Teaming with Julio Franco, who wound up in Atlanta, Garcia helped the Mexico City Tigers to a 74-43 record and a second straight league championship.

In three seasons, Garcia crafted a .350 average with 49 homers and 217 RBIs in 274 games. With nothing left to prove in Mexico, he's trying to rise above Single-A for the first time.

"I wanted to try to play in the big leagues," said Garcia, who was signed by the Chicago White Sox as a non-drafted free agent in 1995. "I know that I could be playing in Mexico probably a couple more years, but I feel that I'm still young, and I wanted to try to play here in the States."

If the Orioles keep one extra outfielder to relieve the three starters and super sub Melvin Mora, Garcia would have to slip past Ryan McGuire and Chad Allen. If Hargrove decides to keep two additional outfielders and forego a pure utility infielder -- either Mike Moriarty or Brian Roberts -- Garcia's chances increase.

"I don't think you can eliminate Garcia at this point," Hargrove said. "It may come down to that, but I think Garcia's still in the mix right now. He's a switch-hitter, he runs well, he plays center field well."

Garcia indicated that he would be willing to report to the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate in Rochester if unable to make the 25-man roster. The dream of playing in the United States again won't die with the possible news of his reassignment to the minor-league camp.

"I'd probably like to go to Triple-A and spend this year here in the States," he said. "I understand how things go here, that sometimes teams have to develop their own people and give a shot to the guys who they had here before. But I understand there's an open spot, and it's a decision they've got to make. I'll be happy if I make the team, but I'll keep working hard to show them I can play."

Mora update

Mora made his first appearance of the spring last night, pinch running for shortstop Mike Bordick in the sixth inning and lining a single to center field on the first ball thrown to him. Mora hadn't played since breaking his left ring finger in Venezuela.

"The injury itself has healed," Hargrove said. "The only way he's going to rebreak that is if he slides in and hits it with a hammer. It's just a matter of reconditioning his arm because of the inactivity."

Around the horn

First baseman Domingo Martinez refused his assignment to the minor-league camp and was given his release. Martinez spent the past five seasons in Japan. ... Jeff Conine and David Segui didn't make the trip, but Hargrove said both players were fine physically. He indicated that Marty Cordova would stay behind while the Orioles travel to Jupiter tomorrow to play the St. Louis Cardinals. ... The Orioles are still waiting for a better estimate for how long center-field prospect Luis Matos will be out of action with a broken left hamate bone. When they announced the injury Tuesday, indications were it could be anywhere from two to six months. Hargrove said they're figuring two to four months, but it could be longer if he also has cartilage damage in his left hand.

Sun staff writer Joe Christensen contributed to this article.

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