-- Mike Hargrove has never had a weapon such as Omar Daal at his disposal, certainly not in the three-plus years he has served as the Baltimore Orioles' manager. Daal is a low-maintenance veteran, versatile enough as a pitcher to move freely between the rotation and the bullpen, and left-handed to boot. The possibilities are tantalizing.

Hargrove's plan for now is to stick Daal near the top of the rotation -- after pitching three innings today against the Minnesota Twins, Daal is on schedule to start the second game of the regular season, April 2 against Cleveland -- and leave him alone.

However, Hargrove acknowledged it will be tempting to shuffle the rotation, giving Daal extra rest or perhaps even moving him to the bullpen for a couple of days, in order to schedule him to start against teams that are vulnerable to left-handed pitching -- teams such as the Twins, who, despite winning the American League Central Division, were only 23-29 in games started by lefties last year.

"Having a lefty gives us the opportunity -- as we look at different series, with days off and skipping people -- to have [Daal] pitch against a team that may be vulnerable to left-handers," Hargrove said. "We'll look at it and do it when we can. But we're not going to bastardize the whole system just to get Omar Daal to pitch against a team that's vulnerable to left-handers."

Daal, who was frustrated over being used in a similar role by the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, said he came to the Orioles with the expectation of being strictly a starter and wants no part of the shuffle.

"I'd rather [start] every fifth day," he said. "Last year, [the Dodgers] put me in the bullpen, then the rotation, then the bullpen. My arm hurt. . . . [This winter] I was trying to find a team where I could be a starter. I knew this team needed a left-handed starter, so it was a good situation for me to come here."

The Orioles haven't had a full-time left-handed starter in their rotation since Jimmy Key in 1998. In the ensuing years, they have seen several lefty starters come and go in brief stints -- Matt Riley, Doug Johns, John Parrish, Chuck McElroy. None had the re{acute}sume{acute} Daal brings with him to Baltimore, after signing a two-year, $7.5 million deal this winter.

Daal, 31, has registered 11 or more wins in three of the past four seasons -- the exception being his disastrous 2000 season, during which he went 4-19 splitting time between the Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks. Take away that season, and he is 40-25 since 1999.

Daal would love if it were taken away.

"Why do you want to remind me of that?" Daal said when asked about 2000. "It was just a bad year. I came back and won 13 games and 11 games [the next two seasons]. . . . I lost 19 games [in 2000], and every time the manager said, 'Do you want to shut down?' I said no. I wanted the ball. The only way I was going to fix what was wrong was by pitching. I don't get credit for what I've done the last two years. Everyone always asks me about 2000."

Daal's game is built around command. He has allowed fewer than two walks per nine innings in each of the past four years. A year ago, pitching for the Dodgers, he held opposing hitters to a .239 batting average and .299 on-base average.

With his distinctive twisting windup, he is able to keep hitters from picking up the ball out of his hand. Though his fastball is only average, he has an excellent change-up and is able to throw all his pitches for strikes.

Except for a nine-game stint with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1997, Daal has spent his entire 10-year career in the National League, developing a reputation as a six- or seven-inning pitcher. In 147 career starts, he has posted only five complete games -- none since 1999.

"He hides the ball well. He changes speeds. He's smart and knowledgeable," Orioles pitching coach Mark Wiley said. "He can get by without his best stuff. And he's good at fielding his position. There's a lot to like there."

Orioles Notes: Despite the two-hour drive each way from their Fort Lauderdale camp to Hammond Stadium -- the same trip that caused the Twins to bring only two starting players with them to Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, irking Orioles management -- the Orioles fielded their probable Opening Day lineup today.

Jerry Hairston batted leadoff, followed by Gary Matthews Jr., David Segui, Jeff Conine, Jay Gibbons, Tony Batista, Marty Cordova, Deivi Cruz and Geronimo Gil. . . .

Left-hander Eric DuBose has emerged as the leading candidate for the Orioles' long relief job. DuBose, whose once-promising career as an Oakland Athletics prospect was derailed by arm injuries, threw three strong innings today, allowing only two hits and one run. In six innings this spring, he is holding opposing hitters to a .143 batting average.

Orioles Manager Mike Hargrove's plan is to put pitcher Omar Daal near the top of the rotation. "I'd rather [start] every fifth day," said Daal, 31.