Runners have the green light - for now

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Spring decisions on bases will tell Mazzilli what to do

February 29, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli should have ample power in his lineup this season, however it's configured. That doesn't mean his team will play station-to-station baseball.

Everyone in spring training will have the green light to steal bases once the games begin next week - a freedom that will be dispensed more carefully in the regular season. Some players will be allowed to run whenever they want. Others will have to wait for the sign.

"They'll show me what they can and can't do," Mazzilli said yesterday after the Orioles completed another base-running drill on the main field. "They will make that decision for me."

The Orioles ranked eighth in the American League last season with 89 stolen bases, the first time they didn't swipe 100 or more since 1998.

"We have a team that's going to be an aggressive, running team," Mazzilli said.

It's assumed that either Jerry Hairston or Brian Roberts will bat leadoff this season, depending on who wins the second base job. But there's enough roster flexibility that few spots are secured.

Mazzilli said the Nos. 3-5 hitters "probably aren't interchangeable," which means Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro and Javy Lopez should stay in the same order. But he's not obsessed with alternating left-handed and right-handed hitters to create a balanced lineup.

Larry Bigbie and Melvin Mora were mentioned yesterday as possibilities in the second slot, but they also could hit eighth or ninth. Jay Gibbons seems like a natural fit at sixth, behind Lopez, but Mazzilli is willing to move him down and ignore the left-right pattern.

"You like it in certain situations, but the teams you face that are mostly right-handed pitching, you can load up the left side and not worry about what's going to happen in the seventh and eighth inning," he said. "I'll worry about the seventh and eighth innings later."

B. Roberts sits again

Roberts missed his second day of workouts because of back spasms.

The Orioles are hopeful Roberts can return to the field today. His status is uncertain, and the team won't rush him.

"We'll just give it another day and see if that helps," he said in the morning.

Said Mazzilli: "It's nothing that's like a major concern."

Roberts missed two games in Seattle last year with the same condition.

Pitcher Omar Daal left yesterday's workout because of tightness in his left quadriceps muscle.

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