New old guys end spring run drought

Day 1 launches Millar, Conine, Hernandez

Opening Day

April 04, 2006|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN REPORTER

The infusion of veteran experience worked wonders yesterday for an Orioles lineup that struggled to score runs all spring.

Kevin Millar, age 34, ripped a pair of hits and showed he can still hustle around the bases.

Jeff Conine, age 39, hit a seventh-inning home run to put the finishing touch on a 9-6 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

And Ramon Hernandez, age 29, swept aside his Florida slump with a 3-for-3, two-RBI Orioles debut. The team's new catcher had just six hits - and a .167 batting average - in 15 spring training games.

"Spring training is about staying healthy and getting guys work," Millar said, reaching for perspective to an Opening Day win. "Forget the numbers. You can hit .100 or .580 [in spring]. You're not going to hit .100 or .580 [in the season].

"Sometimes we get carried away if a guy is 15-for-30, or 3-for-30. There are a lot of veterans in this clubhouse. Turn around the baseball card, and that's probably where the guy is going to be."

Hernandez, who signed a four-year contract in December as a free agent, hit .290 with the San Diego Padres last season. Though he acknowledged his Orioles spring did concern him, he also played six games for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic and hit .273.

His perspective focused on the bottom line.

"It makes me happy if the team wins," he said. "I'm calling pitches, too, and if I go 3-for-3 and we lose, then I don't think I did anything. As long as we win games, whether I go 0-for-4 or 3-for-3, I'm happy."

The Orioles collected five hits in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position. Hernandez had two of them, driving in runs in the second (single to left) and fifth (single to center).

"I was trying to see the ball and not do too much," he said. "I guess I got lucky."

There was more than luck to the Orioles' 14-hit offense yesterday. Every starter had a hit and only leadoff man Brian Roberts failed to drive in a run.

"One-through-nine, we've got a pretty strong lineup," said Conine, who played with the Orioles from 1999 to 2003. "It doesn't tail off a lot."

"When you've got Ramon Hernandez in the nine hole," Millar said, "everybody can do a lot of damage."

Slump? What slump?

"Everybody [outside the club] was worried at first that guys were not swinging the bat, this and that," said Millar, a free-agent acquisition who led the team with 15 RBIs this spring. "But there's a different light switch. This group showed it can play."

Millar doubled in his first at-bat against left-handed starter Scott Kazmir and scored when Javy Lopez tripled to center field. In the Orioles' four-run fifth inning, Millar delivered a run-scoring single to left and scampered to second after left fielder Carl Crawford juggled the ball.

"It's an exciting time," Millar said. "I'm excited personally to turn the page from last year and come out and prove the doubts wrong. I believe this team is a great club. We need to believe that and not believe what everybody writes about us.

"We can shock the world this year and play great baseball."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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