Milligan making no excuses for his slump Batting woes baffling Moose and teammates

May 14, 1991|By Peter Schmuck

This cannot be the way Randy Milligan envisioned the 1991 season when he was working his way back from a painful shoulder injury last year, but he is trying to stay focused on the big picture.

He started slow in 1990 and look what happened. He is a streak hitter who could turn things around in a hurry. He is just part of a bigger slump that has infected much of the Baltimore Orioles lineup. All these things are true.

Milligan knows he will hit. He just knows it. The club knows it, too. It's the waiting that is so hard to handle.

"You've got to always think positive," Milligan was saying the other day. "If you don't, nothing is going to go right. It's not the easiest thing in the world to do, but you have to do it."

If there is power in positive thinking, Milligan should start clearing the fences any day now, but he has yet to hit his first home run. His batting average stands at .195, and it took a modest three-game hitting streak to get there.

Milligan isn't the only one batting a buck and change, but his struggles stand out because he was one of the most productive hitters on the club a year ago. If the Moose gets loose, everyone seems to be thinking, the rest of the team will surely follow him to higher ground.

"The thing is, you need to have one game where you go 4-for-5 with three RBI and a home run," Milligan said. "You know that would get you out of it. But you also know that there aren't a lot of days like that, so you have to do what I've been doing -- get a hit here and there, get a knock today and start getting that positive feeling and it will kick in."

There are a variety of plausible excuses available to Milligan, but he has rejected all of them. He missed most of August and HTC September last year with the shoulder separation that scuttled his breakthrough season. It figured to take time to regain confidence at the plate. He moved from first base to left field to make room in the lineup for newcomer Glenn Davis, then moved back to first base when Davis suffered a rare neck injury. That had to affect his concentration level. He opened the season hitting second in the batting order and has been moved back to a run-production role (fourth, fifth or sixth in the order). How many adjustments can one player be expected to make?

Milligan could be forgiven for falling back on any or all of the above, but he is a stand-up guy.

"I don't think the injury has anything to do with it," he said. "I went through a whole spring training, and I did well."

True enough. He batted .343 during the exhibition season and had four home runs and 11 RBI. Over about the same number of regular-season names, he has no home runs and just three RBI.

"And it definitely wasn't from a lack of confidence, because I came out of spring training very confident. I don't know what has caused me to go through this."

The position change provided a built-in alibi from the beginning. There was speculation before spring training that moving Milligan to the outfield would cost the Orioles something at the plate. His strong preseason performance dispelled that concern, but the move back to first base resurrected it.

Even if that were the reason for his offensive malaise, Milligan said that it would not be a legitimate excuse for his lack of production.

"Defensively, it might have an effect on your performance," he said, "but you can't take it to the plate with you. I try hard not to, but I can't say it hasn't happened."

Milligan has never been a fast starter. His career average in April is just .218. In May, it is .226. He has a history of warming up with the weather, but that doesn't make it any easier when the team is colder than December in Vermont.

Still, he is trying hard to be the same easygoing guy who came into his own at the plate in June and July last year.

"I'm trying to joke around and have fun with my friends, the same things I do when I'm going well," he said. "When things are going well, I'm always joking around and having a good time, but it's hard now, because when you're not going well, people think you're crazy. "You get out of sync, because that's not the normal you when you get all quiet and closed up."

Milligan was saying all this while he watched teammate Mike Devereaux hitting line drive after line drive in the batting cage before Sunday's game. Devereaux was in the same kind of slump a couple of weeks ago, but he has emerged as one of the team's most productive hitters.

"Devo's in a groove," Milligan said. "There's no better feeling than what he's feeling right now."

Milligan knows that feeling and he knows he will get it back. The waiting is the hardest part.

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