Fontenot stealing show at second


Hustling 5-foot-8 infielder is hitting .444 with homer and a pair of doubles

March 08, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

JUPITER, Fla. - Weren't Jerry Hairston and Brian Roberts supposed to be the only second basemen getting noticed in Orioles camp, and not because of their injuries?

While Hairston has been lost because of a fractured finger and Roberts missed workouts, two intrasquad games and the exhibition opener because of back spasms, former No. 1 draft pick Mike Fontenot has seized every opportunity given to him.

Fontenot hit a one-out double yesterday off Florida reliever Chad Fox, with the ball hopping the center-field fence, and drove in the Orioles' lone run in the eighth with a single off left-hander Matt Perisho.

A pattern is developing here, left by a 5-foot-8 middle infielder who spent last season with Double-A Bowie.

Fontenot hit a two-run, opposite-field homer to win the opener, and his hustle delivered the go-ahead run Saturday before the Marlins rallied to win. He is 4-for-9 (.444) with one home run, three RBIs and two doubles this spring.

With the score tied in the sixth inning, Fontenot lined a ball off Marlins pitcher Mike Judd and raced to second, beating the throw with a headfirst slide. He went to third on a bouncer to the left side, holding up until the throw, and scored on a wild pitch.

It was pure hustle, and it brought hitting coach Terry Crowley off his chair beside the dugout so he could be the first to congratulate Fontenot.

"He's a scrappy little player," manager Lee Mazzilli said. "He gets good wood on the ball and makes solid contact. The more you see him, the more you like him."

Ainsworth sharp

Kurt Ainsworth took the loss yesterday, but not because he deserved it. Some things are forced upon a pitcher.

Ainsworth held the Marlins to an unearned run over three innings in his Grapefruit League debut, but the Orioles didn't score until the eighth and stuck him with the decision.

Limited to three relief appearances with the Orioles in 2003 after recovering from a fractured shoulder blade, Ainsworth retired eight of the last nine batters he faced. Damion Easley interrupted the streak by reaching on an infield hit in the third.

The only other hit off Ainsworth, who came to the Orioles in the Sidney Ponson trade, was a one-out single by Miguel Cabrera in the first inning after shortstop Mark McLemore misplayed a grounder for an error. Jeff Conine lifted a sacrifice fly to left for a 1-0 lead.

Ainsworth threw 50 pitches while becoming the first Orioles pitcher to go three innings.

"It was good to go out there and get some throwing in," he said. "I threw a lot of fastballs today. I just tried to hit the corners. I pulled across a couple, which I guess is expected early in the season, but other than that, when I did throw a few breaking balls and changeups, they were pretty good."

Youthful appearance

While the Orioles wait for pitchers Denny Bautista and Eddy Rodriguez to obtain their work visas and report to camp, they might want to check Brian Forystek's birth certificate. He looks as if he has gotten two years younger.

Forystek turned 25 in October, but he has the face of a teenager.

He spent last season at Bowie, going 9-9 with a 3.39 ERA, and tossed a scoreless inning in the exhibition opener before allowing three runs (two earned) yesterday. But his appearance suggests he should be retrieving bats from the on-deck circle.

"People keep telling me when I'm older, I'll be glad," he said, "but right now it's kind of tough."

The Orioles assigned him a locker at the far end of the pitchers' row, nearest to the laundry room. He usually dresses in silence before leaving the clubhouse.

"It's pretty exciting to put on this uniform and go out there and play with a bunch of big leaguers," he said. "I'm keeping a low profile. I'm trying to make myself noticed on the field, not off it."

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