Lefferts may never have to say he's sorry Rangers' sluggers love to make up

April 06, 1993|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

Craig Lefferts has been a Texas Ranger for less than three months, but he learned quickly yesterday that a slow start with his new teammates doesn't necessarily mean a long day at the ballpark.

"With the lineup we've got, it's a lot of fun being out there knowing you can make a mistake and not feel like the game's over," Lefferts said.

Lefferts made his first mistake in the first inning against the Orioles, the team with whom he finished the 1992 season. Brady Anderson led off with a double and scored on a one-out groundout by Cal Ripken.

But by the time Lefferts' day was over, the power in the Rangers' lineup had provided enough runs to give the left-hander a 7-4 victory in the first Opening Day start of his career.

It was a solid return to Camden Yards for Lefferts, 35, who was 1-3 with the Orioles at the end of last season. Named the Rangers' Opening Day pitcher last week after Kevin Brown was placed on the disabled list because of a stress fracture in his ribs, Lefferts gave up four runs on seven hits in six innings. His roughest inning was the fifth, when the Orioles scored three runs on three hits to pull to 5-4.

"Craig does a good job," said the Rangers' Kevin Kennedy, a winner in his first major-league game as manager. "He did well in the spring, and he's going to have a good year."

Lefferts said it would be hard not to have a good year with the likes of Jose Canseco, Juan Gonzalez, Julio Franco and Dean Palmer in the lineup. Gonzalez and Palmer each hit two home runs -- both homered in a five-run third inning -- to make Lefferts' task easier.

"When the third inning came, the fireworks started," Lefferts said. "That's how this lineup is."

Perhaps that lineup can help produce the kind of numbers for the Rangers that the Orioles were expecting when they acquired Lefferts from the San Diego Padres last Aug. 31, two hours before the trading deadline. Baltimore was looking to bolster its starting pitching in a drive to catch the Toronto Blue Jays. But Lefferts was not a factor during September, going 1-3 in five starts with a 4.09 ERA (he was 13-9 with San Diego). He became a free agent at season's end.

"I pitched better than my record showed [in Baltimore]," said Lefferts, a former reliever who had made just five starts before last season, when he combined for 32 with the Padres and Orioles. "[After the season the Orioles] gave me an offer, then they pulled their offer off the table. So, essentially, I had no chance to come back to Baltimore."

Lefferts signed with Texas as a free agent on Jan. 13 and had an impressive spring. He was 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA and finished strongly with 12 scoreless innings. Facing his former teammates for the first time, Lefferts said he didn't have any added incentive.

"The fact I played here a month last year gave both teams a little bit of an advantage because they knew me and I knew them," said Lefferts, who was met with some boos during pre-game introductions. "Other than that, I play for the Texas Rangers and I don't really worry about Baltimore. They're just the other side, and it's just another game."

Lefferts' biggest mistake came in the fifth inning when he hung a screwball to Mike Devereaux, who doubled to drive in Brady Anderson and Harold Reynolds. For the most part, he kept the Orioles off-balance. He struck out seven, including Glenn Davis three times.

"I was throwing breaking pitches early, and they were hitting the ball hard, so I started working my fastball off the plate a little bit more," Lefferts said. "My control got a little better as the game wore on. I felt good the whole game."

Lefferts is hoping that feeling can last the season. He knows there's a good chance of that with the offense the Rangers have.

"We have to lead the league in lost balls," Lefferts said of the batting-practice performance of his teammates during spring training. "These guys can come back and score some runs by hitting the ball out of the ballpark, and it's a good feeling knowing that they're on my side."

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