McLemore awaits 2nd chance First shot at third less than success

July 09, 1993|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

The more Johnny Oates talked about it with Mark McLemore, the more the idea appealed to the Orioles' manager. Why not let McLemore dabble at third base?

Despite an untimely error by McLemore in the first inning last night in his first start at third base for the Orioles, Oates says he likes what McLemore can bring to the infield.

Regular third baseman Leo Gomez, after all, is in a 1-for-31 slump and, it developed yesterday, hurt. Gomez was placed on the 15-day disabled list with tendinitis and a cyst on his left wrist, opening a spot on the roster for Brady Anderson, back after a bout with chickenpox.

And by shifting McLemore, it also opened a spot in the outfield for rookie Jeffrey Hammonds, whose hot start since being recalled from Triple-A Rochester on June 25 has made Oates jTC reluctant to take him from the lineup.

So last night there was McLemore, mainly an outfielder and occasionally a second baseman this season, playing third base for the first time since 1990. Even then it was for only four games with the Cleveland Indians.

In 1988, for reasons still unknown to him, McLemore played five games at third with the California Angels at the request of manager Doug Rader.

"Rader said, 'Mac, I want you at third base,' " McLemore said. "He didn't say why. It wasn't like anybody was hurt."

Although he had never in his life played anything except shortstop and second base, "not even a half inning," McLemore obeyed, just as he did last night.

"I'm in the lineup and hitting second," McLemore said of Oates' maneuver before the Orioles' 12-5 loss to the Chicago White Sox. "It's not like he asked me to catch. Just knowing my name's in the lineup every day is the big thing."

Oates talked to McLemore on the road this week about trying third base, then watched him work out there. He was impressed by McLemore's throwing.

"He could play shortstop with that arm," Oates said. "There's plenty there."

McLemore has been rebuilding his arm strength since 1990, when he underwent elbow surgery in July and biceps surgery in November.

"The toughest part for him will be reading how a ball is hit. At second and in the outfield, you can read that, but it's not as easy at third."

Oates' words were prophetic. In the first inning, a sharp grounder whistled through McLemore's legs, turning a potential double-play ball into a two-base error, opening the door for six first-inning runs. It was his only chance of the game.

"I was begging, please let someone hit another to him," Oates said. "We'll just have to wait until tomorrow. I'm going to sleep on it, but I would think he'd play [third] again."

The loss and the error left McLemore less than thrilled.

"I don't like doing what I did tonight," he said. "I need time. I've only had two days of ground balls."

Hammonds also was in a somewhat unfamiliar position. He arrived from the minors as a center fielder, but played his first 13 games in left before winding up in right last night.

His only sin was a throw that sailed over the cutoff man and past catcher Chris Hoiles in the seventh inning, allowing a run to score.

"I've had better days," said Hammonds, who blunted a sixth-inning rally with a double-play ball but earlier had a two-run single, giving him 13 RBI in 14 games. "I'm sure I'll have better ones than this."

Oates is taking a wait-and-see attitude.

"He missed the cutoff man once," Oates said. "He made a few catches and charged the ball well. We'll keeping looking and observing."

Anderson was batting .340 in his previous 13 games before he came down with chickenpox and missed 15 games. A rehab assignment to regain his batting timing was "never discussed," he said.

"I assumed I'd be back in the lineup as soon as I came off the disabled list. It's not like an injury that usually requires rehab."

Although Anderson (who had an RBI single in three at-bats) had batted leadoff all season, Oates put him No. 8 last night, leaving Harold Reynolds at the top of the order.

"I told Brady I wasn't going to touch the top of the order for now," Oates said. "He said whatever's best for the team. I didn't expect that from Brady, but I'm glad he said it."

Anderson's only vestiges from chickenpox are "a few marks."

"Before my last game, I told the doctors I'd play through this thing," Anderson said. "They said not to take my showers here, thinking I'd spread it.

"What I didn't realize was that chickenpox wipes you out. I didn't get out of bed for six days."

Although the Orioles were 9-6 in his absence, Anderson could hardly bring himself to watch them on TV. He said it made him too nervous.

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