.412 spring has Devereaux first in line for leadoff spot

March 22, 1991|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun Staff Correspondent

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- He is known as an impatient hitter, one who will chase the pitcher's pitch and suddenly find himself walking back to the bench, bat drooping.

But Mike Devereaux is adjusting well to the lessons he's learning this spring and is hitting line drives everywhere.

After going 2-for-3, including a double, in the Baltimore Orioles' 11-9 Grapefruit League victory yesterday over the Toronto Blue Jays, Devereaux is batting .412 this spring, second on the club to Cal Ripken's .448 among the regulars.

That is a harbinger that Devereaux may spend a lot of time in the leadoff position in the Orioles batting order this year to take advantage of his speed and fill what could be a troublesome spot.

"We don't want him to get too anxious up there," said manager Frank Robinson. "A lot of times last year he got himself out on pitches he couldn't handle.

"They weren't necessarily bad pitches, but he was helping the opposing pitcher. We need him to be a little more selective, especially early in the count."

Hitting coach Tom McCraw said Devereaux "is doing a hell of a job" adapting to what the staff wants him to do. "It looks like he's going to come through."

The late-season skid of the center fielder -- he hit .177 in August and .226 in September-October -- was one of the reasons the Orioles were third from the bottom in the majors in runners stranded last year.

"I'm working on some things with Frank," said Devereaux. "Like seeing the ball away, which, in turn, lets me lay off more bad pitches.

"I don't want to be considered a pull hitter. I don't look at myself that way, although those home runs off the foul pole have given me a reputation. I definitely want to spread the ball all over."

Devereaux's game-winning home run off the foul pole in 1989 against the California Angels precipitated a brouhaha between the umpires and Angels manager Doug Rader and was one of the most memorable moments during that dream season.

Now, a player who has hit in every position in the order except fourth would "like to be considered" for the No. 1 spot.

"I'm trying to work on everything it takes to be a leadoff hitter," he said. "Seeing the ball, bunting, taking more walks. So far, it's pretty much understood, I'll lead off down here."

All of his at-bats in Florida have been from the leadoff spot.

"We have a lot of people we can use there," said Robinson. "We don't have a pure leadoff man per se. So far, I'm very happy with the way Devo is swing the bat.

"I'm not so concerned about the walks, because he likes to swing. How effective he is is what's important."

Devereaux has some pop in his bat. Twenty home runs and 32 doubles the past two years testifies to that, so occasionally he will give the

Orioles a 1-0 lead a la Rickey Henderson.

"I'm not satisfied," he said. "I want to go into the season with some momentum and keep working hard on what I'm doing."

It is almost a lock that his speed and ability to chase down fly balls will keep him in center field, where he prefers to play. Unless Devereaux slumps and is out of the lineup, it is unlikely he will be in left or right.

"We have a good shot at being a strong contender," he said. "We definitely have more power and everybody gets along well, like in 1989. So, I want to do whatever is necessary to help this club.

"If that means stealing more bases, taking more pitches or whatever, that's what I'll do."

The Orioles rallied from a 6-4 deficit to out-slug the Blue Jays at Grant Field yesterday.

David Segui, whose .143 average is deceptive because he has hit the ball hard, and Tim Hulett both clubbed three-run homers against Willie Fraser, who is struggling in his bid to become the Blue Jays' fifth starter.

They were the first homers of the spring for both Orioles although Segui had one in a "B" game.

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