Oates going batty over lineup choices

JOHN EISENBERG

January 22, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

Johnny Oates has a compulsion. He can't stop making out lineups.

They're everywhere in his life. He'll doodle them on scraps of paper, napkins, envelopes. Or maybe he'll just be driving along and one will hit him, and he'll tell himself to try to remember it.

Never is he worse than during the winter, when there is little else for a baseball man to do except go slack at the player salaries and give speeches at dinners where they serve overcooked roast beef.

"I quit counting the other day," Oates said yesterday, "at lineup No. 2,645."

It's no surprise. The Orioles have subtracted Joe Orsulak, Randy Milligan and Bill Ripken and added Harold Reynolds, Harold Baines and a Chito Martinez/Luis Mercedes platoon -- it means more RBI potential and speed, but a lower on-base percentage -- and it's a lineup fit for a tinkerer.

"I think it's improved," Oates said. "I look at the names and see a lot of maneuverability."

So, what's he thinking about? You might say there's a little bit of interest considering that fans were standing in line on a cold night in December for 1993 tickets.

The answer is that he is thinking about a lot. Thinking about whether to bat Reynolds second or ninth. Thinking about whether to bat Mike Devereaux second or third. Thinking about how to align Cal Ripken, Baines and Glenn Davis in the middle of the order. Thinking about how to find at-bats for David Segui, whom, he said, "I'm going to play no matter what."

But the manager is thinking more than anything else about getting Baines and Davis in the lineup together as often as possible. That is his all-but-stated goal. "If they're healthy and hitting, you'd be crazy not to want that," he said.

Of course, health is an enormous "if" as it pertains to Davis, who has been less a ballplayer and more a page of the Gray's Anatomy medical school textbook since June 1990. The fans are tired of waiting for the "real" Davis. Some teammates are tired, too. But Oates is not.

"He's telling us he's going to be healthy enough to play first base every day, which is great news," Oates said. "A lot [of the lineup possibilities] depend on how healthy Glenn is. That's really the key."

The Orioles are foolish to count on Davis, but be advised that there is more incentive for him to make a comeback this year. His contract is up after the season, and, with Baines penciled in for at least 100 games at DH, Davis won't get to play much if he can't play the field. That, needless to say, would affect any new contract.

In any case, Oates is willing to invest a few droplets of hope.

"One way or another, I'd like to get Harold [Baines] and Glenn in the lineup together 135 times," he said. "That would give us a lineup with eight guys legitimately capable of hitting 20 home runs, which is something."

Wait a minute, eight guys? OK, there's Devereaux, Ripken, Baines, Davis and Chris Hoiles, who have done it. Oh, and Brady Anderson, who hit 21 last year. Leo Gomez has 33 in two big-league seasons. Martinez has 18 in 414 big-league at-bats.

Hey. He's right. Eight guys.

"Not bad, huh?" Oates said.

Of course, seven were around last season, when the club's bats and playoff hopes died in September, not without coincidence. Enter Baines.

"We did not get him to be a platoon player," Oates said. "We'll give him a chance to play [against both sides]. What I like about him as a run producer is he doesn't strike out much. He puts the ball in play. So you can't pitch around him."

Baines will probably end up batting fourth, with righties on either side. (One of Oates' plans is to alternate lefties and righties to "really mess with" the other guy's bullpen.) It could mean Devereaux hitting third, Ripken fifth and Davis sixth. Or Ripken third, Davis fifth and (surprise) Devereaux back at second again.

The popular conclusion, after Devo's big season a year ago, was his future was in the middle of the order. But hold on.

"I've talked to Brady about it, and he is a strong advocate that he plays better with Devo hitting behind him," Oates said. "Considering the success they had together, it's something you have to consider."

What would that mean for Reynolds, who was thought to be a classic No. 2 hitter when the club got him?

"I could bat him ninth," Oates said. "On the other hand, I love the idea of Brady and Harold [Reynolds] and Mercedes on the bases for Devo. We'll just have to see what happens in the spring. The only real certainty right now is that we've got a pretty good idea of who is leading off."

L And after that? At the very least, it's a doodler's delight.

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