Realigned batting order is winner in Oates' eyes

September 04, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

That seems to be the approach Johnny Oates is taking in regard to his recently revised lineup, even though he admits he has thought about tinkering with the batting order again.

It was 12 games ago that Mike Devereaux, Randy Milligan and Cal Ripken shuffled their positions in the lineup. The changes haven't had any effect on the Orioles' run production, but the overall results have produced eight wins, seven of them in the last eight games.

"I don't plan to change anything right now," Oates said before the Orioles opened a three-game series tonight against the California Angels that concludes this nine-game, three-city road trip.

"I have given some thought to flip-flopping Cal and Glenn [Davis] the 4-5 spots, but I'm very comfortable right now with Randy and Devo where they are."

Milligan seems to have benefited the most from the switch, which is no surprise to Oates for a couple of reasons.

"You could see it [improvement] coming before the switch," Oates said. "If Randy had stayed in the fifth spot, I think he would be hitting just as he is now. He's not the classic No. 2 hitter, but there's no doubt that's the best spot in the lineup to hit.

"If you've got a leadoff man with speed getting on base [as Brady Anderson has done all year] and the 3-4-5 hitters behind you, you're going to get some good pitches to hit. The middle [of the order, 3-4-5] hasn't been particularly productive, but we've been getting it throughout the lineup."

Milligan hasn't exactly been on a tear since moving into the No. 2 spot, but he has been steady. The first baseman has hit .283 (13-for-46) and has 10 runs batted in over the last 12 games.

There is a touch of irony to that move, because Devereaux, who has hit second most of the year, moved into that slot after struggling as the No. 5 hitter. And he has been even hotter since replacing Ripken as the third hitter in the lineup.

"He's been the most productive hitter in the lineup," said Oates, "but that isn't a surprise. He would've been last year, too, except that Cal had an unbelievable year.

"Devo is going to drive in runs, because he gets extra-base hits [56, tops on the club]. And it's tough to pitch around him, because if they throw it up there, he's going to hit it."

Devereaux is hitting .395 (17-for-47) with four home runs and 11 RBI in his last dozen games. The way he's swinging the bat, it doesn't matter where he's hitting.

But, while Milligan and Devereaux have prospered, the two hitters behind them, Davis and Ripken, have struggled. Davis is 3-for-25 (.120) in the first six games of this trip and is hitting .151 in the last 12 (8-for-53).

Ripken, who has gone an incredible 64 games without a home run, is hitting .175 (10-for-57) since the lineup was rearranged, but has shown signs lately of emerging from what has been a two-month slump. He has seven hits and four RBI in the last four games.

"Right now they [the opposition] might have a little more respect for Cal, and that could help Glenn," said Oates. "If they're both hitting, it doesn't matter where they hit."

If Oates does decide to move Ripken to the No. 4 spot, he might be inclined to drop Davis two places and let either Joe Orsulak or Chito Martinez hit fifth against right-handed pitchers.

"We really haven't scored any more runs [since the shake-up], we've just gotten better pitching," said Oates. "The most runs we've scored [on this trip] is five, but still I like our lineup.

"It's not an ideal lineup, but we can do some things."

Indeed, the fifth spot in the lineup is the only one that hasn't produced the expected RBI (only 45). Every other position in the order has produced, ranging from a high of 97 RBI in the No. 2 spot to 56 in sixth position. Both Devereaux and Anderson have emerged as legitimate MVP candidates, although this very well could be the year Cecil Fielder gets his recognition.

Meanwhile, the Orioles go into the California series only one-half game out of first place and even with the Toronto Blue Jays in the loss column (58). Their seven-out-of-eight surge, the last five a row, has left them in a solid position.

After facing the Angels, the Orioles return home to play 16 of their next 20 games, a stretch that should prove decisive.

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