- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2001

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. It's a simple question, really, at least for most baseball players: What's your position?

With Mike Kinkade, though, you're probably better off with a different approach: What isn't your position?

"Shortstop and second base," the Baltimore Orioles utility man says. "I haven't had a whole lot of time there. I don't see them putting me there any time soon.

"Oh, and I don't pitch. I will not get on the mound. I'll leave that to the real professionals."

Every other spot on the diamond is fair game for Kinkade, a 27-year-old catcher/first baseman/third baseman/outfielder hoping to hold down a regular job with the Orioles this season.

His performance at the plate this spring, including a team-high three home runs and a slugging percentage over .800, is reason enough for Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove to consider keeping Kinkade on the 25-man roster.

Add to that his versatility in the field, and Kinkade suddenly becomes all the more attractive to a major league manager.

"He's played everywhere we've put him," Hargrove said. "I've switched him around during ballgames, and he's made the adjustment. He's done nothing to tell me that he can't play."

Something of a throw-in from last July's trade that sent Mike Bordick to the New York Mets for Melvin Mora, Leslie Brea and Pat Gorman, Kinkade may prove to be a valuable acquisition for the Orioles if they can find a way to keep him on the roster. Kinkade is out of options Baltimore cannot send him to the minor leagues without first placing him on waivers.

Sensing they have a difficult decision to make before the start of the regular season, the Orioles have been trying Kinkade all over the diamond this spring.

He started at third base against the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 4, launched a homer off ace Kevin Brown, then finished the game in left field.

He replaced Jeff Conine at third on March 6, then caught two innings to close out the game against the Montreal Expos.

He started in left field in yesterday's 10-3 loss to the Florida Marlins, hit his third home run of the spring in the bottom of the first, threw a one-hopper to the plate to throw out Mike Lowell trying to score in the sixth and later threw out Dave Berg trying to stretch a single into a double.

And when the Orioles travel to Fort Myers tomorrow to face the Minnesota Twins, their starting first baseman will be none other than Mike Kinkade.

"That's fine with me, just as long as I can get on the field somehow," said Kinkade, who has only 57 major league at-bats and went 3-for-9 in his brief stint in Baltimore last year. "Whatever position it is, I'm just real happy to go out there and get the opportunity to play."

Kinkade saw plenty of action in last summer's Olympics in Australia, starting eight of nine games at third base for Tommy Lasorda's gold medal-winning squad. He batted just .207 with 3 RBI but said he wouldn't trade the experience for anything.

Now he's trying to land a job with the Orioles, which could still prove a difficult task given the plethora of corner infielders/outfielders on Baltimore's roster. The left-handed hitting Jay Gibbons, who can play first base and left field and has drawn impressive reviews this spring, was a Rule 5 pickup and like Kinkade must remain on the major league roster or risk being lost.

If Kinkade does make the team, Hargrove said it likely would be as a "role" player, meaning he could see time at several positions, including as the Orioles' third-string catcher behind Brook Fordyce and either Fernando Lunar or Greg Myers.

There is no question, though, that for a man without a position, Kinkade has caught the attention of the Orioles.

"Everybody's been talking this spring about Gibbons," Hargrove said, "but Mike Kinkade has slowly but surely gone about his business."

Notes Cal Ripken took 30 swings off a batting tee and fielded groundballs again yesterday and is getting closer to making his spring debut with the Orioles.

"I haven't had any discomfort," said Ripken, who fractured a rib four weeks ago and has yet to face live pitching this spring. "So far, it feels fine."

The team has not decided when the 21-year veteran will be ready to go, but Ripken would like to get a minimum of 20 plate appearances and ideally would play in 14 exhibition games. Either way, he plans on being ready come April 2.

"I don't see Opening Day being a problem," he said.

Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley, who worked with Ripken yesterday and will continue to do so up to the start of the season, also sees no reason Ripken won't be in the lineup by opening day.

"Once he gets feeling 100 percent, with the way we work together and the drills we do, we can make up for lost time," Crowley said. "There are some things we do in the [batting] tunnel that can make up for lost at-bats."…

Outfielder Luis Matos, who dislocated his left shoulder sliding into third base last week, underwent arthroscopic surgery yesterday in Birmingham, Ala. Matos needed the less complex of two procedures Dr. James Andrews could have performed, meaning the 22-year-old will go through two months of rehab and could be ready to play again in three months. The more complex procedure likely would have ended Matos' season… .

Pat Hentgen, the Orioles' probable Opening Day starter, gave up four runs on a trio of homers in Baltimore's loss to the Marlins yesterday. With a stiff breeze blowing out to center field, Hentgen surrendered home runs to Derrek Lee, B.J. Waszgis and Cliff Floyd. Reliever Mike Trombley gave up a homer of his own in the eighth, a solo shot by Mike Lowell.


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