Orsulak could be a regular for Mets

March 01, 1994|By Jennifer Frey | Jennifer Frey,New York Times News Service

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The first time New York Mets manager Dallas Green said it, people were taken somewhat aback. When asked in January who might play first base for the Mets and who might bat leadoff, one of the first answers to both questions was Joe Orsulak.

Joe Orsulak?

Orsulak used to lead off, back in Pittsburgh in the mid-'80s, when he started his major-league career before going to Baltimore for five seasons. And he has played first base -- exactly four times, that is.

But in his first season with the Mets, Orsulak served mainly as a platoon outfielder, a starter against right-handed pitchers. And that's the role most expected him to fill again this year.

This, though, is a spring training filled with question marks -- first base and the leadoff spot being two of the biggest ones. During the off-season, the Mets got rid of Eddie Murray, their first baseman, and Vince Coleman, their leadoff hitter, in an effort to change the dynamics of the clubhouse. But the moves also changed the dynamics on the field.

"I don't think anyone knows what will happen," said Orsulak, 31. "There are a lot of outfielders, and there are not a lot of first basemen. But there are no guarantees."

Once he took over as manager last May, Green used Orsulak strictly against right-handers, so it seems unlikely that he would tag Orsulak to be his everyday first baseman.

Instead, the Mets are hoping that another ex-Oriole, Glenn Davis, is healthy and able to play first, at least against left-handed pitching.

Other first-base candidates? The Mets are taking a good look at Alan Zinter -- who had a great year in Double-A in 1993 -- and also have Jim Lindeman in camp.

Before last season, Orsulak had never played anything but the outfield, which he plays superbly. This spring, he has been spending half of his workout time with a group of in fielders, learning their drills and taking ground balls. "It'll be a big adjustment, but I feel like I can handle it," said "I'm concentrating a little more on the infield because I feel comfortable, obviously, with the outfield since that's where I've played."

"I feel Joe's versatility is going to be helpful to the ballclub," Green said. "He's an intelligent baseball player and if I can get him in the infield, I think it will help in game situations."

A career .279 hitter, Orsulak hit .284 for the Mets last season, walked 28 times and struck out 25 times. Although the Mets can count on him to get on base, he doesn't have the speed desired in a leadoff hitter -- speed like that of outfielders Ryan Thompson and Pat Howell.

"I don't think we really have any leadoff hitters," said Orsulak, looking around at the names above the lockers in the Mets clubhouse. "Everything can change here. It's still early. I'd like to wait and see what we have when we get to Opening Day."

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