Richard well enough to throw hat in ring


O's outfield is crowded, but rehabbed shoulder gives him swinging shot

February 25, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Chris Richard is a new husband and a homeowner. That part of his life is complete.

It's the baseball aspect that still lies in pieces.

Richard is trying to fit into the Orioles' crowded outfield, and numbers aren't the only deterrent. He still hasn't regained full range of motion in his left shoulder after arthroscopic surgery last winter to reattach the capsule and clean some fraying in the rotator cuff. Though finally able to throw, something he couldn't do after returning to the lineup July 31, Richard said he continues to experience some mild discomfort.

"I feel things going on in there," he said. "It still has a ways to go, but it's gotten a lot better. We'll just have to see what happens in games as far as how it performs, but I feel like I can play in the outfield and at first base and do the job.

"This might be something that I'll always have. It might take a little longer to get that last 10, 15, 20 percent. You just deal with it and keep playing."

Richard made seven starts at first base last season. He missed the first four months while rehabbing his shoulder, then homered against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on the first pitch thrown to him. Kept in a lineup that needed the runs, Richard batted .455 during a nine-game hitting streak but went 7-for-60 after Aug. 28.

In yesterday's first intrasquad game, Richard started in right field but didn't have to make any hard throws. He impressed manager Mike Hargrove during cutoff and relay drills earlier in the day.

"If that's indicative of his arm strength," Hargrove said, "he can play the outfield."

Marty Cordova, Gary Matthews and Jay Gibbons are the projected starters in the outfield, and B.J. Surhoff signed a minor-league contract earlier this month. Surhoff and Richard are left-handed hitters who play the corner outfield positions and first base, so the Orioles aren't likely to keep both on the roster.

The club also could add an outfielder to boost the offense, presenting another strike against Richard, who might be packaged in a trade. The Orioles are interested in the Colorado Rockies' Jack Cust.

"If Chris has a big spring training and shows he's healthy, then you've got to look at giving him an everyday job somewhere," Hargrove said. "If not, then you're looking at him more as a left-handed bat off the bench and a utility guy. It's sort of in-between right now."

"It's early, but there's definitely competition out there," said Richard, who married the former Cindy Brown after the season and bought a home in Tampa, Fla., near pitcher Jason Johnson. "There are only so many roster spots, and we're pretty deep in the positions I play. I'm not in control of that. Anything can happen in this game."

Good start for Reboulet

No player will make the team off one intrasquad game, but Jeff Reboulet didn't hurt his chances, either.

Starting at shortstop, Reboulet singled off Bill Pulsipher, made a leaping catch and doubled off Marty Cordova at first base, started another double play and dived to his right to rob David Segui.

"You don't make a decision off the first day," Hargrove said, "but you start gathering information and you remember things. Certainly, the way Jeff played today left a good impression and we'll remember that."

Jerry Hairston led off for one squad, with Matthews batting second. Pitch counts were held at 15, and teams were given an extra out while working on rundowns and double steals.

Willis Roberts and Rick Bauer were the starters, though they'll pitch out of the bullpen this season. Comic relief was provided by Jeff Conine, who feigned an injury after being removed for a pinch runner. Conine limped to the dugout, a grimace on his face, and waved off the trainer before slamming his helmet to the ground. Players laughed in the dugout, and Conine ran sprints after the game.

Club kick-starts Raines

If Tim Raines Jr. ever had doubts about baseball being a harsh business, he found out this winter.

After making his major-league debut in October 2001, when the Orioles allowed him to play in the same outfield as his father, Raines Jr. was designated for assignment last month to clear room on the 40-man roster for reliever Kerry Ligtenberg. He passed through waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Ottawa, but also received a spring training invitation.

"The decision they made was something to help out the club," he said. "It's unfortunate that it had to be me, but I just use it as motivation. It kind of kicked me in the butt. It makes you raise your level of play."

Raines spent last season at Double-A Bowie, batting .261 with five homers, 25 RBIs and 33 stolen bases in 123 games. He went through three levels of the farm system in 2001 before having his contract purchased and appearing in the Orioles' last seven games.

A sixth-round draft pick in 1998, his stock has taken a dramatic tumble.

"There are no grudges held at all," he said. "It's a business."

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