Back, neck injuries keeping Hammonds from really contributing

September 12, 1993|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

The month of September hasn't been a complete bust for Orioles rookie outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds.

Why, just yesterday on his way into Oriole Park for last night's game with the Oakland Athletics, a young fan handed Hammonds his own trading card to autograph, the first time he had seen his own likeness on a card.

"That made me feel good, like I belonged," said Hammonds.

That may, however, turn out to be the lone September highlight for Hammonds, who is floating now in baseball limbo, too banged up to play regularly, but too curious about the potential ++ wonders of postseason play to give up.

"I'm not anywhere where I want to be," said Hammonds. "I've had better days, to be sure."

Hammonds has been slowed with back and neck injuries that have reduced his role greatly.

"I've never looked at myself as a one-dimensional player, but that's what I am for now," said Hammonds.

Hammonds, the highly touted fourth pick of last year's amateur draft, had two dazzling months in the minors, between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Rochester, before bursting onto the Orioles' scene.

Hammonds' big league debut was a flashy success, with two singles and an intentional walk, and things only got better from there.

Hammonds got a hit in each of his first six games and had 11 multi-hit games, including a streak from July 21-30 where he had five straight games with multiple hits.

In all, Hammonds is hitting .305 with three homers and 19 RBI, and shows every indication of having the all-star credentials club officials envisioned when they selected him.

But during his minor league stints, Hammonds suffered ailments in the nerves in his neck. Those ailments never completely subsided and eventually led to a herniated disk in his back, which forced him to the disabled list for most of August.

He underwent a four-game rehabilitation assignment at the end of August and returned to the Orioles when the rosters expanded to 40 on Sept. 1.

He has played four times since, going 1-for-9, with most of his recent duties confined to pinch-running.

LTC "I could hit a fastball right now, but if it's a situation where I have to react, then I'd be in trouble," said Hammonds. "I can't dive and when I come up to throw, I can get the ball back, but in terms of a throw, it's not a good one."

Hammonds says he is operating at about 60 percent effectiveness, and manager Johnny Oates has said he will be limited to designated hitter, pinch-hitting or pinch-running for the rest of the season.

"He tells me every day what he feels like doing," said Oates yesterday. "You never know. He could take good batting practice and then stiffen up. You just have to keep close contact with him."

In a perfect world, Hammonds would either quickly heal or take the rest of the season off. The Orioles are certainly counting on Hammonds to be a mainstay of the club for years to come and do not want to do anything that would jeopardize his future.

In fact, last week's trade for Lonnie Smith was made in part to relieve any pressure Hammonds might feel to rush himself back.

"If they told me to take the rest of the season off, I couldn't fight it," said Hammonds. "I appreciate the fact that the organization is concerned and I wouldn't want to do anything that would hurt the pennant race."

But the pennant race is precisely at the root of Hammonds' desire to keep playing.

Even though he's a rookie with the potential to lead many Orioles championship chases, Hammonds, wants to be a part of a run for the American League East title.

"It would be a lot easier [to take the year off] if it weren't for the pennant race," said Hammonds. "I could pack it in and do what I need to do and I can't let my ego and pride get in the way, but got something to play for and I want to be a part of it, if I can."

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