Voigt makes most of few minutes Utility man increases options

August 07, 1993|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Staff Writer

When Jack Voigt learned on the last day of spring training that he would begin the season in Rochester, rather than with the Orioles, he looked manager Johnny Oates straight in the eye -- and thanked him.

Voigt wasn't thrilled with the idea of going back to Triple-A, but he didn't figure to stay there long. Though he hadn't stuck with the Orioles, he had done something almost as important.

He had gotten noticed.

"Johnny was open with me," Voigt said. "He told me that he felt I deserved to stay in the big leagues, but they just didn't have room.

"He told me to go down and work hard and be ready. And the last thing I said to him going out was, 'Thanks very much for the chance, and I will be back.' And he looked at me and said, 'I know you will.' "

Less than one month into the season, Voigt, 27, had kept his promise. The trade of Luis Mercedes to the San Francisco Giants on April 29 opened a spot on the roster, and Voigt -- who was batting .361 at Rochester -- hasn't relinquished it.

Last night he had three doubles -- equaling the major-league high this season shared my many, including Orioles teammate David Segui on May 19 against Cleveland -- and walked in his other two plate appearances. He scored twice and drove in a run, boosting his average to .328, with two home runs, 10 RBI and 14 runs scored in 32 games.

"The only bad swing I took was on the last double," he said. "I thought I hooked it, and I was lucky to end up at second base because I was slow getting out of the batter's box, thinking it was going foul."

Not much has gone wrong for Voigt lately. In his past seven games he is 10-for-19 (.526) with six doubles, one home run and four RBI.

The Florida native may not play often, but he leaves a lasting impression.

"There's no lack of confidence in Jack," Oates said. "He's nicknamed Roy Hobbs around here. The guys ride him a lot and give him a hard time because he's so well-liked in the clubhouse. He's been good for this ballclub."

Not bad for someone who spent five days with the Orioles last season, appeared in only one game, and was doubled off second base as a pinch runner.

"I'm just trying to do the best job that I can, and the job that I was brought up here this year to do," Voigt said. "Johnny's been honest with me so far. Everything he's told me when I first got here has been true, so I can't complain one bit. I'm happy with the way my season's gone so far."

Voigt made another start in right field last night after going 2-for-3 with two runs scored in a 3-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday, but there aren't many positions that he couldn't fill. In his past eight games, he has played left field, right field and first base and served as the designated hitter.

"He's a very valuable individual," Oates said. "He's like my insurance policy. It's like having a piece of the rock. He can play all three outfield positions, he can play first and third, he's told me he could catch for me. Everything I've asked him to do so far, he's done well.

"Jack is the type of guy who has an idea of what's supposed to be done, and that makes it easier to be a part-time, utility-type player. He knows his role. The bottom line is he pays attention."

He can't afford not to.

"I come to the ballpark thinking I'm going to be in the lineup every day," Voigt said. "That's the only way I can stay mentally prepared. The one day that I come in thinking I can be a little late, then all of a sudden I see that I'm in there and I have to scramble to get ready, I can't do it. I don't have that kind of God-given talent. I have to be very deliberate in what I do, very precise."

And very patient. Having been a starter throughout a minor-league career that began at Single-A Newark in 1987, Voigt still is getting used to spending most of his time on the bench, though his recent offensive tear and a neck injury to Jeffrey Hammonds should free more playing time in the outfield.

Of course, anything he does with the Orioles, even if it's sitting and watching, surely beats the alternative.

"Everybody wants to play every day, and I'm sure I could go to them and say, 'Look, I want to go back to Rochester and play every day,' and they'd probably be more than happy to do it for me," he said. "But that's not what I want to do. I want to play in the big leagues, whether it's as the first guy on the roster, or the 25th. I don't care.

"I'm just happy that I still have a job. Baltimore has stuck with me and I'm grateful for that. I cherish putting on the uniform every day."

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