Anderson lags in race for leadoff spot Orioles frustrated by struggle at plate

March 21, 1991|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Correspondent

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Baltimore Orioles have waited patiently for Brady Anderson to blossom into an everyday player, but there are indications that the club's patience is wearing thin.

Anderson, who came to spring training this year as one of the leading candidates for a full-time leadoff role, has struggled at the plate and has struggled even harder with the all-fields approach to hitting the Orioles would like him to adopt.

There were signs of improvement in Anderson's 2-for-3 performance on Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale, but it was not enough to keep hitting coach Tom McCraw from wondering what it will take to bring the 27-year-old outfielder into his own.

"I take it personal, trying to get him to perform to his ability," McCraw said. "The kid has the ability to play in the big leagues, but you can't play in the big leagues hitting .207."

Anderson knows the score. He knows what it's like to try to fulfill the expectations of others. He's been doing that throughout his professional career. But he came to spring training with some expectations of his own, and he hasn't given up on winning a regular place at the top of the Orioles batting order.

To do that, he has to show the coaching staff that he can hit the ball to the left side. He has to bunt. He has to get on base a lot more than he has during the first two weeks of the exhibition season. His two-hit performance against the New York Yankees on Tuesday brought him out of a 1-for-17 slump, but it did not prove that he is the kind of on-base threat who will set the table consistently for Cal Ripken, Glenn Davis and the rest of the Orioles run producers. It's time for him to step forward.

"It's been time for a while," Anderson said. "I know what they are saying. Last year, I was more satisfied with being a fourth or fifth outfielder. This year, it's important for me to win a starting job.

"Nobody's going to benefit more than me if I play well. It'll be good for me and good for the club. I'm doing everything I can to win the job. But if I don't, I'm not going to give up and just say, 'That's it.' A lot of guys have helped their clubs as a fourth or fifth outfielder."

If that sounds fatalistic, consider that teammate Mike Devereaux has taken the leadoff competition by storm. He entered yesterday's exhibition game against the New York Mets with a .429 batting average and a .455 on-base percentage.

McCraw doesn't mince words. He obviously feels the time has come for Anderson to stake his claim or step aside.

"You paint a picture for him," McCraw said. "The club needs a leadoff hitter. There are some guys coming up behind you like Luis Mercedes, who seem to have a knack for getting on base. This is a natural process. You have to produce. That's nothing more than the truth."

Anderson has struggled at the plate in each of his three major-league seasons, never hitting better than last year's .231 average. He'll have to improve on that in a hurry to establish himself as an effective leadoff man, though he is selective enough at the plate to be dangerous without hitting .300.

"I've talked to him," McCraw said. "I've told him how important he is to us. We need a leadoff hitter. Yesterday, he hit the ball to left, and he laid down a bunt. That's the kind of player he has to be.

"He doesn't fight you. He'll take a hundred swings in the cage and do great, but he gets into the box and doesn't do it. It's important to me that he succeeds. I take that personally."

There is frustration in McCraw's voice. It is obvious that he feels much of the responsibility for Anderson's development, or lack of it, is his.

"He shouldn't be frustrated," Anderson said. "He's helped me a lot. The last few games, they have made it clear to me that -- regardless of the results -- I have to work on hitting the ball to left field. I have to let the ball come back. I've always hit the ball out in front, so when I went to left, I was guiding it to left."

It is a difficult adjustment, but if he can make it successfully, the Orioles might be in a position to balance their predominantly right-handed lineup -- even if he doesn't win the leadoff job outright.

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