Tackett now a force at the plate, as well as behind it Rochester report

April 18, 1991|By Patti Singer | Patti Singer,Special to The Sun

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- The taunt that got under your skin in Little League can annoy you just as much in professional baseball. No batter wants to hear "easy out, easy out" when he steps to the plate.

"I want to be an offensive threat," said Rochester Red Wings catcher Jeff Tackett, who has been one through five games. "I don't want to be the one they say, 'You can get this guy out.' "

Tackett's .235 average in the fifth spot in the batting order belies his offensive output in the young season. Three of his four hits went for doubles. He leads the team with nine walks, five yesterday against the Syracuse Chiefs, and eight runs scored.

Even his outs have been hit hard.

"He's got confidence as a hitter," said manager Greg Biagini, who is fostering it by keeping Tackett in the middle of the order. Last season, the catcher batted eighth or ninth. "This is a boost for Jeff to stick him in a run-producing spot in the order. I have all the confidence in the world he can handle it."

Tackett batted .239 last season after hitting .323 through June 1. He has batted .220 in seven minor-league seasons and hasn't batted as high as fifth since 1986, when he batted .285 for Class A Hagerstown.

Tackett, 25, has built a reputation as a defensive specialist. He threw out 45 percent of runners attempting steals last season to rank second in the International League. That still is what he considers the most important part of his job.

"My main priority is to get my pitcher a win, get my pitcher a save, throw out runners," he said. "Hitting is a bonus."

* The Red Wings are loaded with outfielders, even after they released Joaquin Contreras to make room for left-handed hitter Oddibe McDowell. But apparently they don't have a true center fielder who could help the Baltimore Orioles if either Mike Devereaux or Brady Anderson is injured.

"You go out and acquire people because the major-league team feels there's a need," Biagini said. "If there is someone here they feel comfortable with, you don't go out and acquire people."

Luis Mercedes is the Red Wings' regular right fielder. Chito Martinez had played center, and David Segui had played left in three of the Red Wings' first five games. Right-handed hitter Tony Chance, who batted .269 with 14 home runs and 75 RBI, has started only one game. Four other players can play in the outfield, among them utility man Jeff McKnight.

Contreras was the odd man out because, even though he is a switch-hitter, the team is "stacked with left-handers" Biagini said, and "we don't see Joaq playing in the major leagues with us."

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