McLemore catches on to expanded outfield duties


April 22, 1993|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

Mark McLemore has yet to challenge a fence in pursuit of a long fly ball. He has yet to throw out his first over-aggressive base runner. He is, in fact, still learning the nuances of outfield play.

But as a first-time-in-his-life outfielder, the Orioles' utility man already might be the best defensive right fielder of the four-man contingent manager Johnny Oates has alternated out there.

Witness his long, running catch in foul territory to retire the

Chicago White Sox's George Bell leading off the 12th inning Tuesday night.

It was the toughest of the few chances McLemore has had in three games in right so far. It also put him in the lineup in right field for last night's game, which was rained out.

McLemore, who pinch ran in Tuesday's game and then went to right, wasn't impressed, though.

"It wasn't that difficult," he said before last night's game. "The toughest thing was getting to it. I wasn't sure I'd get there."

Originally, Oates wanted to use McLemore, a second baseman by trade, in right on nights when either Brady Anderson or Mike Devereaux needed a rest.

That wasn't the case last night. Anderson and Devereaux were in the lineup. Conspicuous by his absence against right-handed pitcher Jack McDowell was left-handed Chito Martinez.

"I like the way McLemore has played out there," Oates said. "Offensively, he's contributed. He's an outstanding base runner. And he's had some success against McDowell."

The numbers show that McLemore, a switch-hitter, went into the game 5-for-15 against McDowell lifetime. Martinez has been almost as good: 3-for-10 with two RBI. But Martinez is 0-for-15 so far this season, and last Saturday committed a costly base-running mistake that killed a budding rally.

The idea of using McLemore in the outfield started with first-base coach Davey Lopes. Last September, out of the blue, Lopes called McLemore over and said he wanted him to take some fly balls in the outfield.

McLemore asked why. "Because I want you to," Lopes said.

McLemore obliged and a whole new defensive strategy opened up for the Orioles.

"I just felt it would make him more valuable," Lopes said. "The more positions you play, the better it is. He has speed that all teams look for. Why not expand [his game]?"

Lopes had made a similar move to the outfield late in his career after a long and distinguished run at second base.

What Lopes saw in McLemore was an instinctive player who "looked like a natural outfielder. . . . I told John: 'Mac can play the outfield.' "

McLemore didn't grip the implications at first. "Actually, I thought it was just for last year, to create more [defensive] opportunities for Johnny," he said.

It wasn't until McLemore re-signed with the club in January that he realized the long-term ramifications.

Does he feel like a right fielder now?

"When I'm in the lineup in right field, I'm a right fielder," he said. "When I'm in the lineup at second base, I'm a second baseman."

He says the difference is a matter of concentration. He is always involved in the game at second base, whether fielding grounders, backing up plays or reading the catcher's signs. In the outfield, there are often times when he's not involved at all.

McLemore, 28, worked in the off-season to strengthen his arm for the extended throws he'd have to make in the outfield. The result, he said, is that his arm feels the best it's felt since he had two arm surgeries.

He says he even likes playing the outfield. But he knows he hasn't really been tested yet.

"I can't say I've had anything difficult [in right]," McLemore said.

Then he leaned back in the chair in front of his locker with a knowing smile. "But it's going to happen."

1% Odds are, McLemore will be ready.

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