Their morning began behind closed doors with legal pads, coffee and cigarettes. Three hours later, they'd switched to cold cuts and diet sodas, but for another 90 minutes, they talked.

"Spring training," Baltimore Orioles Manager Earl Weaver said, "is about possibilities."

So today, on the eve of spring training, Weaver, General Manager Hank Peters and the rest of the Orioles staff considered possibilities.

They thought of outfielder John Shelby as a second baseman, DH Larry Sheets as a catcher, starting pitcher Storm Davis as a reliever and outfielder Lee Lacy as a DH.

Their left-handed reliever may be named Brad Havens or Eric Bell, not Tippy Martinez. Their catcher may be Floyd Rayford, not Rick Dempsey. And their starting rotation could include kids like John Habyan and John Hoover instead of veterans like Mike Boddicker and Dennis Martinez.

Or, none of those things may happen.

"You've got to consider everything," Weaver said. "As manager, I've got to get the right guys out there before the owner gets another guy to manage. See, it's important."

It's very important for the Orioles, who are coming off their second straight disappointing season and have seen their roster changed drastically since the 1983 championship season.

It's important, too, for Weaver, who wants to prove that after 2 1/2 years of retirement that ended last June 14, the spark still is there.

It's important, too, because this has been one of the Orioles' most nervous winters. Despite an offense that hit 214 home runs and scored 818 runs in 1985, they won only 83 games and finished 16 games out of first place in the American League East.

Remarkably, what failed the Orioles in 1985 is what they thought never would fail them: pitching. Last season's staff had the highest ERA in club history (4.38) and set club records for most runs allowed (763), most home runs allowed (160) and opponents' batting average (.270). After pitching 48 complete games in 1984, virtually the same staff had 32 in 1985 -- the fewest by an Orioles staff since 1967. And their six shutouts was their lowest total since 1954, when they also had six.

What made the winter nervous is that the same pitching staff is returning this season. They replaced Sammy Stewart, a long reliever, with Rich Bordi, another long reliever. That's it.

So what this spring training is about is seeing if Boddicker (12-17), Scott McGregor (14-14) and Davis (10-8) can be consistently productive. Weaver said he won't be as patient this summer.

With the south Florida weather warm and muggy, the Orioles pitchers and catchers will have their first workout Friday morning, and while Weaver will stress such things as holding runners on, his spring message will be even more basic than that.

"I just want them to know that they have to do whatever it takes to win," he said. "We have six guys who can be starting pitchers, and only four or five of them are going to make it. This spring training will have competition because it's not like we're coming back with four 20-game winners. The coaches and the manager are going to give them everything we possibly can to help them win, but they have to go out and do it."

There are about 6,000 theories as to why an outstanding pitching staff became mediocre over one winter. Peters believes the pitchers didn't work as hard in the offseason as they should have, and if that's the trouble, it should have been corrected.

Not only did he get regular reports on what each pitcher was doing, when they returned to Baltimore in January, he monitored their attendance at the Memorial Stadium workouts. When a pitcher missed a workout, he got a telephone call from Peters.

McGregor, who stopped lifting weights last spring and lost a crucial few miles per hour off his change-up and fast ball, says he never has felt better.

Mike Flanagan (4-5), who learned the joys of a conditioning program while recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon last winter, says the same thing.

Tippy Martinez believe he has isolated and strengthened the muscle that helped him to back-to-back bad years.

So it goes.

"A lot of it was that we got in a bad frame of mind," McGregor said. "We're feeling so positive right now, but we have to go out and do it."

This spring is different for other reasons as well. For one thing, performances in spring training will determine performers during the season.

With McGregor, Flanagan, Boddicker, Davis, Ken Dixon (8-4) and Dennis Martinez (13-11), the Orioles have six starting pitchers and probably will use only four -- five at the most.

So on trips to Fort Myers and West Palm Beach, trips that were only practice runs in 1982 and 1983, jobs will be won or lost.

"We've got about 12 to 14 pitchers trying for nine or 10 jobs," Peters said. "No one can take anything for granted. Neither Earl nor I want to reward anything. Rewards will be made by deeds."

Weaver and his staff have the pitchers and catchers for a week, with the rest of the squad due in next Friday.

Several players, including first baseman Eddie Murray, said they need a spring under Weaver to get them back to stressing fundamentals.

Weaver said he heard statements like that enough times that he asked to see former manager Joe Altobelli's workout schedule from last spring.

"It was the same as the one I always had," Weaver said. "But knowing fundamentals and executing them is sometimes a different thing. You can't just come out here and go through the motions. It's boring as hell for a veteran player, but if they don't put their heart into it, they won't accomplish a lot.

"Each and every year I've come to spring training feeling we can win, and this year I feel the same way."