- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2000

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. A lot of guys are going to be summoned to Mike Hargrove's office this week.

With just four more spring training games until they fly north, the Baltimore Orioles still have 38 players vying for the 25 places on the Opening Day roster so Hargrove, the Orioles' manager, will have to tell 13 players they aren't making the team.

The news will be disappointing for most of the 13, but it won't be unexpected. The Orioles began spring training with very few roster spots available because of guaranteed contracts and little has happened this spring to create more openings.

"I've said all along that most people will either play themselves on to the team or play themselves off it," Hargrove said last week. "There are still a couple of tough choices but otherwise, there aren't too many surprises."

Barring a trade, the immediate future of only four players' remain in doubt. Jesus Garcia and Jerry Hairston are competing for the utility infield job and Tim Worrell and Al Reyes are vying for the final right-handed spot in the bullpen.

Other than that, despite some solid performances by the likes of Derrick May and Ryan Minor, the roster has been determined.

Hairston poses quite a dilemma for the Orioles. He came to camp needing to unseat veteran Delino DeShields at second base to guarantee a spot on the team. Hairston has done his part. He's hitting .390 after he went 1-for-1 in yesterday's 8-4 loss to the Montreal Expos in Jupiter, Fla. However DeShields also has played well and thus isn't losing his job.

Hairston has moved up quickly through the Orioles minor league system this is just his third spring training by showing quick reflexes and great range and reliability in the infield. His .303 lifetime average in the minors indicates he's got nothing left to prove offensively on the farm.

He hit .269 in a pair of call-ups last year and this spring he's continued to show a smooth glove and unbridled hustle. He clearly doesn't need any more seasoning but he's not going to benefit from sitting on the bench in the majors.

Hairston disagrees.

"I don't think I have anything left to prove in the minors," he said. "I think I can learn a lot from being in the majors and from being alongside all the professionals. I'll go where they tell me but I think it's more important I'm exposed to the big league atmosphere."

Hairston could assume the utility infield role, but despite having played third base in college and shortstop early in his minor league career, he's played exclusively at second this spring.

Meanwhile, Garcia has played three infield spots this spring and has hit .344. However, he's committed a team-high five errors Hairston has none, albeit in fewer chances leaving an opening for Hairston to beat out his close friend.

Ironically, Hairston's primary competition may prove to be his savior. The Orioles experimented with DeShields in the outfield this spring and liked what they saw.

DeShields has shown he has the range and aptitude to man center field and first baseman/designated hitter Jeff Conine may be able to play left and right. As a result, the Orioles could shop 38-year-old veteran Rich Amaral, their utility outfielder.

If Amaral is dealt elsewhere then that would open up a spot for Hairston. However Amaral has a guaranteed contract although his salary is one the Orioles could afford to eat. Utility outfielders are a dime a dozen and, given Amaral's age, there would be little interest in him.

Like Hairston, Worrell has made it difficult for the Orioles to cut him. The 32-year-old veteran came to camp as a minor league free agent who needed to turn in a strong performance and have Reyes struggle. Both have happened.

Worrell has a 1.38 ERA and showed an ability to pitch well with runners on base, always a bonus for a relief pitcher. Meanwhile, Reyes got off to a bad start, allowing 12 hits and six walks in just 8* innings. But just when it seemed he had pitched his way to Class AAA Rochester, he has responded with a pair of perfect one-inning outings, thus leaving his status on the team in doubt.

The only other question to be decided this week the Orioles head to Atlanta Friday for an exhibition against the Braves and then bus to Chattanooga, Tenn., the next day to play the Reds is who gets the final spot in the Orioles starting rotation. Unlike the other two battles, the loser will still have a place on the 25-man roster.

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