Brady's upswing lifts O's Anderson renews offense, puts team on rise again

June 18, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

MILWAUKEE -- It is not the return of the old Brady Anderson. That much should be obvious now that his lengthy batting slump seems to be over and his numbers can be crunched into a form more befitting 1992 than the three years before.

Of course, you couldn't help but wonder, especially when his batting average fell to .212 and his lack of aggressiveness on the bases became cause for concern. Anderson last season became one of the premier leadoff hitters, but for all his off-season work at the track, he hasn't established a track record.

Anderson doesn't seem to care about the doubters. He dealt with them once and did so in such a dramatic manner that he set standards that will be difficult to meet again. Last year, he became the first player in American League history to have as many as 20 home runs, 80 RBI and 50 stolen bases in the same season. That doesn't figure to happen on a yearly basis.

Little more than a week ago, no one would have given it a chance to happen again this year. Andersonhad started the season on a three-week roll reminiscent of his breakthrough season, but his batting average started to slide in late April, and it bottomed out a week or so ago. Now, he's in the midst of a career-high-tying nine-game hitting streak that has put him back on track for a solid season.

His 12 hits in 35 at-bats during the streak have raised his average to .230. The run production that has come with the upturn in average has played a large part in the dramatic turnaround of the team. Anderson has three home runs and eight RBI in the past nine games, improving his season totals (7 HRs, 28 RBI) to a point where they project to another solid season.

If he continues at this pace, he'll finish the season with 17 home runs and 70 RBI, which would represent an outstanding performance for any full-time leadoff hitter.

Manager Johnny Oates acts as if he never had a doubt, and maybe he didn't. He was the one who gambled on Anderson as a full-time player and hit the jackpot last year. His confidence -- if Anderson's presence at the top of the lineup is any indication -- has not wavered.

"He has been swinging the bat well for the last month," Oates said. "He's just getting a few more breaks now. He was hitting the ball hard, but it was always at somebody."

No one denies Anderson went into a slump in late April and early May. It was obvious by his dwindling batting average and by his seeming lack of aggressiveness on the bases. Now, an explanation seems to beemerging.

"There were different factors," Anderson said. "There was a time when physically I wasn't feeling like running at all. There were a lot of things. We were facing a lot of left-handers early in the season, and we were behind a lot."

He doesn't like to talk about the physical things -- the nagging injuries and the three-week bout with the flu. Anderson has been playing on a couple of sore knees. It only takes a look at the bulky ice pack attached to each leg after games to figure that out. No wonder he is on pace to steal only 22 bases this season. No wonder he couldn't get comfortable at the plate.

"Last year, there were times I didn't feel great either," he said, "but whether I feel bad or feel good, I just want to play."

That's the rub. He wants to be in there every inning of every game. He knows that is the only way he can prove that last year was not a fluke.

Oates is just happy to have him back to where he once was. The offense is moving again, and the Orioles are moving up the American League East standings with it. It is no coincidence that Anderson has been on base with greater regularity during the club's turnaround.

"That's what he's here for, to get on base," Oates said. "Our primary need is for Brady to score runs. He has scored 37 runs this year. He still has a chance to score 100 runs for us. That's what he needs to do."

The stolen base question remains open. Anderson has been more aggressive of late, but not nearly to the extent that he was on the way to 53 stolen bases last year. First-base coach Davey Lopes noticed the difference early on, but couldn't put his finger on the problem.

"You can speculate whether his knee was the problem or just an inability to get off to as good a start as last year," Lopes said. "I've always said, when his hitting picks up, the rest will pick up. Earlier in the year, he just wasn't in sync."

That didn't go unnoticed. When rumors sprang up in Boston that Anderson might be traded to the Red Sox for pitcher Frank Viola, Boston general manager Lou Gorman shot them down with a negative appraisal of Anderson's roller-coaster career.

"People outside the organization -- like Lou Gorman -- think he has come back to earth," Lopes said. "He's going to have to beat that rap. He's going to have to put a couple of good years together or people are going to say he was just an overachiever. I would prefer to think he developed late, but we'll just have to wait and see."

"He has the ability to pick up a ballclub just with his base-stealing ability," Lopes said. "He can cause a momentum shift in the course of a game. He can do a lot of things. I don't think he realizes yet that he is an impact player."

ORIOLES TONIGHT

*

Site: Cleveland Stadium

Time: 7:05

Orioles starter: Ben McDonald (2-6, 3.86)Indians starter: Jose Mesa (5-4, 4.03)

TV: HTS

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)

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