MIAMI -- Just when the departure of minor-league outfielder Darrell Sherman appeared to streamline the leadoff competition, manager John Oates threw a new name into the hat.
First baseman Randy Milligan has been mentioned in passing as a possible leadoff man before, but Oates said yesterday that he is seriously considering using him in that role on occasion this season.
"If Brian Downing can hit leadoff for 15 years, and do a good job of it, than anybody can hit leadoff," Oates said.
This was not meant as any disrespect to Downing, who has been a productive leadoff hitter for both the California Angels and Texas Rangers during his major-league career. It was just Oates' way of saying that there is more to batting leadoff than having great speed.
Milligan is one of the club's best on-base threats, even though he does not fit the classic leadoff profile. No doubt, he would rather bat deeper in the order, but the way the roster stacks up against him this year, he figures to be happy just to be in the lineup.
"I wouldn't hesitate a second to bat him leadoff," Oates said. "In the right lineup and the right situation. If it came down to a left-hand pitcher and I wanted somebody up there to get on base, I would bat him leadoff. I'm not just shooting the breeze."
Oates has been auditioning Brady Anderson and Luis Mercedes for the leadoff role, but he has indicated that he might use a variety of players at the top of the lineup. He said that it would not be unrealistic to predict that Milligan will bat leadoff in at least a handful of games.
"I'd have no problem with that whatsoever," Oates said. "I haven't looked it up, but I would guess that over the last three years, his on-base percentage ranks second or third on our club. He's not going to steal any bases, but we aren't going to steal that much ahead of the three, four and five hitters in our lineup. Those guys can score a guy from first base."
Milligan's .390 career on-base percentage ranks fifth among active major-leaguers, but he's not a threat to run once he reaches base. He was 0-for-5 on steal attempts last season, tied for worst in the majors.
Mike Devereaux still might show up in the leadoff spot at times this year, but Oates apparently is committed to seeing what he can do in a run-production role. The Orioles figure to benefit more from Devereaux's power if he hits in the fifth or sixth spot in the lineup, and his speed can still come into play when he gets on base ahead of the bottom third of the batting order.