Baltimore Orioles Manager Ray Miller has wrestled constantly with the Harold Baines problem: how to keep the game's definitive designated hitter in the lineup, while at the same time not overusing Baines, whose 40-year-old legs require extra care.

The "problem" takes on an extra dimension beginning Monday, with the Orioles playing a week of interleague games at National League ballparks -- with no designated hitter. Baines will stay on the bench as a late-inning pinch hitter, but Miller said today he will try to get Baines as many at-bats as possible, even if it means playing him in the field.

"About the only way I can get a second at-bat for him is to maybe double-switch and let him play the outfield," Miller said. "If we get an inning going, and I send him up and he does something, then three or four more hitters go by before we make the last out, I might put him in the outfield for an inning and get him a second at-bat."

Baines has been shagging flies during batting practice in recent days in case the situation arises.

Baines has played two innings in the field since 1993 -- both on June 10, 1997, when he played right field during the seventh and eighth innings for the Chicago White Sox against the New York Yankees.

In past years, Baines has played some outfield during spring training. But, according to Miller, when Miller offered him outfield playing time in a game this spring, Baines replied, "No, let's wait for interleague."

Baines's hot bat -- he is hitting .347, and entered tonight's game hitting .375 with runners in scoring position, tied for fifth in the American League -- and the dearth of left-handed starting pitchers in the league has made Jeff Conine virtually obsolete.

"I want to get Conine in the lineup," Miller said, "and really the only way I can is to not DH Baines. Otherwise I'd have to sit [left fielder] B.J. Surhoff or [first baseman] Will Clark. . . . But there will be chances to do that."

Back Up!

In response to an alarming number of balls hit over the heads of center fielder Brady Anderson and right fielder Albert Belle on the recent West Coast road trip, the Orioles have begun to play them deeper.

"There's too many balls going over their heads," Miller said. "It wasn't because of their inability to go back on them. It's because our pitching is bad. The way we're pitching, you can't fault our outfielders for taking a step back when the guy swings. . . .

"Albert was brought here and paid well to hit. He's not supposed to be making 15 plays a night in right field." . . .

Catcher Charles Johnson missed tonight's game in order to attend the funeral of a relative.

CAPTION: Harold Baines is the Orioles' hottest hitter, but there won't be any designated hitters when Baltimore plays interleague games in NL ballparks.