- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 16, 2002

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. Yes, it's only spring training, and no, the games don't count, but the Baltimore Orioles have been playing solid baseball for the last week. And for a team admittedly looking at a rebuilding year, any eight-game winning streak is significant.

"That's a pretty good little run," center fielder Chris Singleton said last night before Baltimore added to it by defeating the New York Mets 6-3. "Obviously, we know it's not the season, but they're still wins."

After watching his team win just two of its first eight games this spring, manager Mike Hargrove has seen an abrupt turnaround, not only in the won-loss column but also in the quality of play.

"Even more important than [winning] down here, you look at how you win," he said. "We've won because we've pitched well, we've played good defense and we've done the little things that you need to do to keep the games close to have a chance to win."

First and foremost, the Orioles have been getting strong starting pitching, an encouraging sign for a team attempting to build around its young arms. Entering last night's game, the seven men still in competition for spots in the rotation had a combined 7-2 record and 2.47 ERA over 62 innings.

Four of the five spots are assured: Scott Erickson (1-0, 3.00 ERA), who is on schedule to start Opening Day against the Yankees; Jason Johnson (1-0, 0.00), who tossed four scoreless innings Thursday night; Sidney Ponson (2-1, 3.86), who followed Johnson with four scoreless innings of his own before surrendering two runs in the bottom of the ninth; and Josh Towers (2-0, 1.00), who has not officially been named the Orioles' No.4 starter but virtually has locked up the job.

The three candidates still in the running for the final rotation spot Calvin Maduro, Sean Douglass and Rick Bauer all have spring ERAs under 4.00, which means Hargrove and vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift are going to face some tough decisions in two weeks when it comes time to establish the 25-man roster.

"I think there are probably three or four guys that we'll probably send out of here that I wouldn't have any problem taking [to Baltimore] with us," Hargrove said. "But that's good."


Mora feeling fine

One night after making his spring debut, utility player Melvin Mora cracked the starting lineup for the first time, filling in for Mike Bordick at shortstop against the Mets.

Mora, who had been out with a broken ring finger and a strained calf muscle, came off the bench Thursday night and went 1-for-2. He emerged with no complaints.

After spending large chunks of last season as the regular center fielder and later at shortstop, Mora will be used exclusively in a utility role this year. He's capable of playing all three outfield positions, shortstop, second base and third base.


Extra bases

Designated hitter David Segui had to leave last night's game in the third inning after twisting his right ankle running down the first-base line. Hargrove said Segui left the game for precautionary reasons and will not make the trip to Jupiter today to face the St. Louis Cardinals. Segui, who missed 80 games last season, was hobbling around the clubhouse after the game but declined to discuss the injury. …

Jerry Hairston's bid to assume full-time leadoff duties continues to go well. Entering last night's game, the second baseman was batting .353 (12-for-34), had walked six times and had been hit by pitches three times. … Towers pitched four innings in a minor league game in Fort Myers yesterday while giving Douglass a chance to start against major leaguers. Bauer will do likewise today, facing Texas Rangers minor leaguers in Port Charlotte.


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