Olerud's other stats aren't average either Extra-base hits, RBI also soaring

June 29, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

John Olerud and this season are both probably too young to talk seriously about hitting .400, but the conversation doesn't have to end with that subject.

At the age of 24, the Toronto Blue Jays first baseman is putting up numbers that represent a lot more than just the highest batting average in the American League. And if .406 (Olerud's current average) sounds familiar, it's because that's what Ted Williams hit in 1941, the last time anyone reached the magic mark.

But, perhaps even more impressive to those who have watched his career blossom in the past four years, are the power ratings Olerud is compiling. He's on a pace to drive in 136 runs, hit 30 homers and --get this -- amass 69 doubles.

The all-time record for two-base hits in a season is 67, by Earl Webb with the Boston Red Sox in 1931.

It is his sudden surge in extra-base power that makes Olerud's average so impressive. In addition to average, he leads the league in hits (106), extra-base hits (47), total bases (179), doubles (32), on-base average (.506) and slugging average (.697).

Last night Olerud brought his stylish show to Camden Yards and more than lived up to his billing. He drilled a two-run single off right-hander Rick Sutcliffe in the first and a clinching two-run double off left-hander Jim Poole in the seventh.

Manager Cito Gaston is probably the least surprised of anybody. He has been touting Olerud since he first saw the kid in 1989.

"I said then that I thought he was a pure .300 hitter," he said.

Like most of the baseball people who have marveled at the steady improvement, Gaston sees the subtle things that have transformed Olerud from a contact hitter to one who swings with authority.

"The biggest thing, I think, is that he's a little more aggressive," said Gaston. "He used to take a lot more pitches."

That fact is not lost on Sutcliffe. "You could tell last year that he was a good hitter -- but I do remember him taking more pitches early in the count," he said. "Tonight he was looking to hit every pitch."

Olerud acknowledges that the experience of three full years has enabled him to change his approach.

"I would say the two biggest things are that I've been able to handle the inside pitch better and that I'm more aggressive," he said. "There were some teams that just pounded me inside with fastballs."

Gaston can best appreciate Olerud's aggressive approach because he already has seen the extraordinary discipline the youngster brings to home plate. "When he gets two strikes on him, he's a lot like [Wade] Boggs -- he's still not out," he said.

That part of Olerud's game paid a quick dividend against Sutcliffe in the first inning last night. He got behind in the count, but still laced a breaking ball into right field to open the scoring.

"You have to have patience against him," said Olerud. "He'll change speeds and you've got to wait to get a good pitch -- and it's not easy."

Right now, however, the way Olerud is swinging, the game looks easy. He's on an impressive roll and has shown the resilience generally reserved for extraordinary hitters.

Olerud probably won't be able to match Williams' average, but he is likely to finish with more extra-base hits than The Thumper. Williams had 37 homers, 33 doubles and three triples in 1941 -- a total of 73.

At the rate he's going, Olerud will have almost that many doubles. The new kid on the block has put himself in some fast company. And he's holding his own rather well.

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