- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2001

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. Albert Belle passed his team physical and participated in the Baltimore Orioles' first full team workout of the spring yesterday.

Whether the slugger's degenerative right hip allows him to play in an actual game is still up in the air.

Belle was given a clean bill of health by Orioles team physician Michael Jacobs after a routine medical examination yesterday morning, then joined his teammates on the field at Fort Lauderdale Stadium for a three-hour workout.

Once on the field, it was obvious Belle is nowhere near 100 percent healthy. He had a noticeable limp, did not run at more than a jog and did not throw a ball with much force.

At the plate, the 34-year-old outfielder/designated hitter looked relatively fine, launching numerous line drives and deep fly balls during batting practice.

"We've got a long time in spring training to determine what Albert Belle can do," Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift said. "We're not going to find out in one day."

Yesterday's physical was viewed as a critical event for Belle, who has three years left on a five-year, $65 million contract. There had been speculation that the team would not be responsible for the remainder of his contract had he failed the exam, effectively ending his career.

Talk now will center around Belle's ability or inability to perform on the field. Though he was deemed physically fit to play, the Orioles acknowledge his status could change as the spring progresses.

Asked at what point in the season the team becomes responsible for Belle's $13 million yearly salary, Thrift said he did not know.

Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove was not totally discouraged by Belle's showing yesterday.

"Swinging the bat, I thought he looked fine," Hargrove said. "I thought he looked a little bit limited in his running. It's still his first day, though."

For now, Belle remains the Orioles' starting right fielder. If he can't play the field, he would be relegated to a DH role.

"If something happens that says he can't, then we'll adjust," Hargrove said. "But until then, Albert is the right fielder."

After playing the majority of his career injury-free, Belle missed 20 games in September with an inflamed bursa sac in his right hip. On Sunday, Belle admitted he first felt pain in July but did not inform anyone until Sept. 3, when he took himself out of the lineup.

He came back to play the season's final six games but still finished the year with numbers (23 home runs, 103 RBI) well below his career average.

Belle went through a rigorous rehab program this winter and passed a physical exam similar to yesterday's last month following the Orioles' Fan Fest in Baltimore.

He arrived in Fort Lauderdale three days before position players were required to report and took swings in the batting cage. On Sunday, Belle said he wants to play right field on a regular basis this year.

"I'm sure there are going to be some days where it feels great and some days where it feels sore," he said. "Hopefully by the end of spring training, we'll have everything narrowed down. I'd like to go back out there in the outfield, but it depends on the condition."

If there was any definitive news to come out of yesterday's events, it was that there is nothing definitive about Belle's condition and that the team can only watch to see what happens over the next few weeks.

"We just have to wait and see how he reacts to baseball activities," Thrift said. "How does he play the outfield? How does he run? How does he hit? I don't see how you could tell in one day."

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