- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. The Baltimore Orioles arrived in Florida six weeks ago seeking to put the failures of the last four seasons behind them and determined to prove that significant progress can be made in the post-Cal Ripken era.
They left yesterday with yet another victory and reason to believe the 2002 season will be far more enjoyable than the previous one.
With a come-from-behind 9-8 win over the Florida Marlins in Viera, Fla., the Orioles saw their spring record improve to 19-8-1. Tonight's game against the Braves in Atlanta and tomorrow's against the Cincinnati Reds in Louisville, Ky., are the only remaining tuneups before Opening Day.
Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove could not have asked for much more from his team this spring.
"I think it's been a good camp, and not just from the obvious standpoint of the number of games we've won," Hargrove said. "It's been a good camp because there's been a lot of good work going on. We've been able to see a lot of good young people."
Coming off their fourth consecutive fourth-place finish in the American League East and a 63-98 season that was their worst since 1988, the Orioles in many ways started from scratch this spring. Ripken, Brady Anderson, Albert Belle and Delino DeShields are gone, having retired or moved on to other teams.
In their place are a collection of veterans and youngsters, with one thing in common: a need to prove something, either to themselves or to the organization.
"I think everybody was a little bit hungrier this year to prove that they belong here and want to do well here," catcher Brook Fordyce said.
The Orioles didn't break camp with definitive answers to all their questions, but they did arrive at several key conclusions.
Scott Erickson appears to have regained the pitching form he held before undergoing elbow ligament replacement surgery in August 2000. The 34-year-old right-hander will start Monday's season opener against the New York Yankees at Camden Yards.
Behind Erickson, the Orioles have a young and potentially strong pitching rotation that includes Jason Johnson, 28, Sidney Ponson, 25, Josh Towers, 25, and Calvin Maduro, 28. Those five starters combined for an 11-2 record and 3.02 ERA this spring.
"We think we've got a pretty deep rotation," Towers said. "We all have a ton of confidence in each other and ourselves, which really helps."
Jerry Hairston appears ready to be a full-time leadoff hitter after batting .318 and scoring 17 runs in exhibition play. Jay Gibbons has displayed 30-homer power. Mike Bordick no longer seems hindered by the right shoulder injury that cost him the second half of the 2001 season.
The Orioles even caught a glimpse of what might be a year or two down the road, with several minor league players succeeding in the camp. No one in uniform impressed Hargrove more than outfielder Larry Bigbie, who hit .345 this spring. Third baseman Jose Leon hit .344 with five RBI, and left-hander Erik Bedard amassed a 1.80 ERA before surrendering four runs in one inning yesterday and being optioned to Class AA Bowie.
Finishing with a good record this spring is by no means a barometer of things to come. But Baltimore's success on the field in Florida should not be overlooked either. "The key is to take it into the season and not forget what we've learned down here," Johnson said.
Note The Orioles signed left-handed reliever Yorkis Perez and assigned him to Class AAA Rochester.

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