Orioles manager Mike Hargrove had to make one small concession yesterday while praising Melvin Mora's versatility and trumpeting his value to the team.
"I haven't seen him catch," Hargrove said, "so I'm not sure he can do that."
Mora's ability to move around the field like a hot dog wrapper on a windy day made it easy for Hargrove to put him in left field once Marty Cordova went on the disabled list. Expected to be used in a utility role this season, Mora again has become a regular presence in the Orioles' lineup.
He's also become quite a nuisance to the New York Yankees, who in two games have seen him clear the bases with a double and make a diving catch to stunt a rally.
Though disappointed that he's playing because of an injury, Mora said, "This is the opportunity I've been waiting for."
Why not take full advantage of it?
The big hit came in Monday's opener, when Mora reached the base of the fence in left-center field against six-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens. He also walked twice and stole two bases, again proving that spring training games are overrated.
Mora got a late start after breaking his left ring finger during a winter league game in Venezuela. With only a few weeks to get ready, Mora hit five homers to lead the team.
They wouldn't have been enough to get him on the field for Opening Day without Cordova's strained quadriceps muscle. The starting center fielder last year after starting at shortstop the year before, Mora has shifted to left despite not playing the position with the Orioles.
How smooth was the transition? Ask Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, who thought he had driven in at least one run last night before Mora made a diving catch to keep the game scoreless in the second inning.
Bernie Williams singled and Robin Ventura drew a walk to put Orioles starter Jason Johnson in early trouble. Posada followed with a drive to left that was slicing toward the line, a sure hit until Mora extended himself to make the catch, landing on the same hand that he had spent part of the winter rehabilitating.
Mora also singled and walked last night against Yankees left-hander David Wells, who limited his former team to four hits in 7 1/3 innings. Mora will likely find a seat on the bench once Cordova returns -- the veteran outfielder can be activated on April 12 - but Hargrove will find him at-bats as a replacement for center fielder Chris Singleton and shortstop Mike Bordick.
"It's good to have somebody like that," Hargrove said. "It's a very comforting feeling to have somebody who can play every position on the diamond and play them pretty well. Obviously, a couple positions he plays a lot better than others, but he's very capable of playing them all.
"He's almost cursed and blessed at the same time. He's blessed that he's got such great athletic talent, but he's cursed because it really doesn't allow him to settle into one spot right now."
Mora recently met with Hargrove to discuss his reduced role. He still burns to play regularly, but has better accepted his utility status.
"We talked about it," he said. "If that's going to be my situation, I'm ready for it."