Oates: Hitters' approach hasn't slumped He, Biagini say Orioles remain aggressive at plate

September 16, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

Former Oriole Ken Singleton, whom some said had a ` doctorate in hitting, refused to use the word.

Batting coaches dread its inevitable existence. Managers cringe the thought of a team epidemic.

A slump is the same to a baseball player as a case of the shanks is to a golfer. You don't even want to think -- let alone talk -- about it.

"Don't even mention the word," Singleton used to say when asked how a hitter escapes from a you-know-what. His theory was if you didn't acknowledge it, then it didn't exist. "There are hitting periods," he said, "and then there are non-hitting periods, which you try to keep as short as possible."

It is no secret that the Orioles have generally been in a non-hitting period for the past 2 1/2 months, which is much longer than Dr. Singleton would prescribe. Orioles manager Johnny Oates and batting coach Greg Biagini agree that is too long to endure.

And both are quick to puncture the theory that a s---- takes place because a team, or individual, changes its approach. On July 4, after 78 games, the Orioles were hitting .270, the highest average on that date in team history. In the next 65 games, they paddled along at a .248 pace while scoring almost a run less per game (4.9 to 4.0).

As they hit and therefore score less, the popular perception has been that the Orioles have lost their aggressiveness. The reality of the matter is that you can't have one without the other -- and if anything, over-aggressiveness is just as likely to be the problem.

"There hasn't been one thing that's changed on this club," Oates insisted before last night's game. "Devo [Mike Devereaux] still swings at everything that's near him and Randy [Milligan] still takes four or five pitches. Overall, I'd have to say that we're one of the most aggressive [hitting] teams in the league."

And there are times, like these, when that sometimes can be a disadvantage.

"At times we're overly aggressive to the point where we try to make things happen where all we have to do is put the ball in play instead of trying to hit it out of the park," said Biagini.

"What's hurt us most [offensively] is that we haven't really hit on all cylinders as a team the entire year, even earlier when we were scoring more runs. It would be nice if we could finish up hitting on all cylinders. This is the time of year when you want to get hot."

Most of the attention concerning the Orioles' offensive slide has centered on Cal Ripken, who went 73 games without a home run. And there is no way to minimize the legitimacy of that contention because Ripken's home run drought roughly coincides with the team's slide.

Biagini has heard most of the theories about batting stances, bat and arm position, you name it. He just smiles that smile that says, "if you knew what it was, you'd fix it."

Two days ago, just before Ripken broke his homerless string, Biagini got a game film he had requested. "It was the game in Milwaukee June 23 [when Ripken hit two home runs].

"Because we were on the road I hadn't seen it and I was anxious to look at it. We put it up on the screen, side by side with films of last weekend against Milwaukee."

Biagini says that what he saw surprised him. "I was expecting to see something drastically different. But everything was exactly the same -- the stance, the bat position, the swing -- everything.

"We even had the same pitcher [Jaime Navarro] throwing," said Biagini, "and everything was the same. You could have superimposed one over the other, it was that identical. You couldn't tell which swings were the home run swings."

The one part of the Orioles' offensive game that has been disappointing to Oates is no different now than it was earlier in the year. "We've done a terrible job of situational hitting," he said. "That was one of the three major areas [along with starting pitching and base running] we went into spring training saying we had to improve -- and it's the only one that we haven't.

"We've done a pretty good job getting runners from second to third with nobody out, but we haven't done a good job of getting them in."

With the Orioles scoring fewer runs, those runners stranded at third have been magnified. But, the Orioles have actually left fewer runners on during their "non-hitting period" than earlier (an average of 7.7 as opposed to 6.4 per game).

"Runners left on base are directly related to on-base percentage," said Oates. "All year long we've been 1-2 in both."

Currently, the Oakland Athletics and the Orioles are first and second in on-base percentage and runners left. "We're not leaving as many on base now, because we're not getting as many runners," said Oates.

With fewer runners to work with, Oates says he has tried a few subtle things to generate runs. "We've used the hit-and-run more with certain guys," he said. "But when you're not hitting you're reluctant to do a lot of bunting, because you don't want to give up the out.

"Sometimes the game dictates that you do things by the seat of your pants," said Oates. "But if you do that too often you're going to get your pants burned.

"As a manager, I feel it's my job to put a player in the position in

which he has the best chance to excel -- to do what he does best."

And when the home run hitters do what they do best, everybody looks better -- and more aggressive.

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