-- For all their talk of adding power this offseason and all their attempts to throw money at big-name sluggers, the Baltimore Orioles took the field today for their first exhibition game of the Grapefruit League season with a lineup made up of mostly holdovers from 2002, when the Orioles scored the second-fewest runs in the American League.
Despite the lack of a designated hitter in a National League park, and despite Manager Mike Hargrove's warning that one should not read too much into his first lineup of the spring, the Orioles' lineup today in a 4-3 loss to the Florida Marlins could look similar to the one that will take the field March 31 against the Cleveland Indians on Opening Day.
The best hitter in the lineup the Orioles were projecting back in January was behind the plate for the opposition today. Marlins catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who came close to taking the Orioles' offer of a three-year deal worth $21 million, instead signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Marlins.
Today, Hargrove had second baseman Jerry Hairston and center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. in the first two spots, where they likely will bat Opening Day. Hairston earned the leadoff spot last spring, lost it after a slow start, found himself benched in midseason, then earned another stint at leadoff with a strong finish.
Hargrove said Matthews would probably be the second choice to hit leadoff if Hairston falters.
David Segui, whom Hargrove said will play the majority of time at designated hitter, is expected to bat third this season, but he was held out today since there was no DH. Instead, veteran left fielder B.J. Surhoff, who is competition with Marty Cordova, batted third today.
Hargrove said the 38-year-old Surhoff, if he makes the team, could wind up in a platoon with Cordova in left field.
"I think B.J. is still a good player," Hargrove said, "but he's not a spring chicken. We'd have to be careful about playing him too many games in a row. And that's presuming he makes the club, and that's not a foregone conclusion by any stretch of the imagination."
First baseman Jeff Conine, right fielder Jay Gibbons and third baseman Tony Batista batted fourth, fifth and sixth, where they are likely to bat this season. Cordova or Surhoff are expected to hit seventh this season, with shortstop Deivi Cruz and catcher Geronimo Gil in the last two spots.
The Orioles still hope to pull off a trade for a power hitter this spring, and a league source said the team's talks with the Colorado Rockies for outfield prospect Jack Cust are still hot. Cust, 24, has been an all-star at every level of the minors and saw limited action in the majors last season.
The Rockies are interested in Orioles outfielder-first baseman Chris Richard, whom the Orioles are looking to move to alleviate a logjam of similar players. The Rockies want to throw reliever Todd Jones into the deal as a salary dump, but the Orioles don't need another right-hander in their bullpen.
Orioles Notes: Right-hander Sidney Ponson, who gave up one earned run during a two-inning stint today, said the team needs to make a decision about its crowded rotation situation. The Orioles have seven viable major league starters in camp -- Ponson, Rodrigo Lopez, Omar Daal, Jason Johnson, Scott Erickson and Pat Hentgen. Ponson and Johnson are the likeliest candidates to be traded, but a veteran such as Erickson or Hentgen may have to accept a move to the bullpen. The team needs "to make a decision," Ponson said. "We have seven starters and a lot of relievers. [Someone] has to go somewhere. I can't say anything about it. Right now, I'm an Oriole.". . . Daal was supposed to have pitched two innings today after Ponson but was pushed back to Friday. . . . The Marlins' winning run scored on an error by left fielder Cordova, who overran a ground ball with the bases loaded. All three runs (one unearned) were charged to non-roster right-hander Rafael Pina.