The Burners, The Bashers & The Hitter OPENING DAY '94


April 04, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,SUN STAFF WRITER

Four arrived in trades that look much bigger now than they did then.

Three signed free-agent contracts.

Two came via the draft.

One entered the organization as a nonroster invitee to spring training.

That's how Brady Anderson, Mike Devereaux, Rafael Palmeiro, Harold Baines, Cal Ripken, Chris Hoiles, Chris Sabo, Mark McLemore and Jeffrey Hammonds came to wear Orioles uniforms and form the 1994 Opening Day lineup.

Just as impressive as the names are the numbers they have produced.

Each of the top eight hitters has had at least one 70-RBI season in the major leagues. The top seven have reached 80 each. The ninth is a rookie.

Seven of the eight veterans have had a 20-homer season, and five have stolen 20 bases in a season.

"My team might be my worst enemy as far as getting save opportunities," closer Lee Smith said. "We might be so far ahead I could end up with six saves at the break. Just as long as we win, so be it."

On paper, an argument can be made the Orioles have the deepest batting order in baseball.

Of course, translating the names and numbers into a cohesive lineup is the job of the manager.

Johnny Oates, who accepts the challenge with zest, divides the lineup into three basic components. Call them the burners, the bashers and the hitter.

The burners (Anderson, Devereaux, McLemore and Hammonds) reside at the top and bottom of the order, the bashers (Baines, Ripken, Hoiles and Sabo) in the middle, the hitter (Rafael Palmeiro) in the third slot.

"That's what I like about our lineup," Oates said. "Speed at the top, speed at the bottom and a lot of mashers in the middle. The neat thing about our lineup, and the thing that made Toronto so tough last year, is everybody from top to bottom is going to hit. Baines and Hoiles are the only two guys who can't run very well. When we aren't swinging the bats very well, we'll be able to create some runs."

Oates' lineup is not set one through nine. Only three things are virtual certainties: Anderson and Devereaux will be at the top of the order; McLemore and Hammonds are at the bottom; Palmeiro stays in the No.3 hole.

"The four through seven hitters are interchangeable," Oates said. "Ripken, Hoiles, Baines and Sabo, you could find them in any order depending on the pitching matchup and how they are swinging the bat."

As a general rule, Baines will bat fourth against right-handers and drop down as far as seventh against left-handers. Ripken is the most likely cleanup hitter against left-handers.

Oates will avoid dropping one of the burners into the middle of the bashers.

"Let's say I put Hammonds in the sixth hole," Oates said. "That could keep him from using his speed. Let's say he hits what could be a triple, but he has to stop at second. Baines and Hoiles are base-to-base runners. That's one reason for the speed being at the top and the bottom."

Another scenario illustrates why Oates will avoid breaking up the middle of his lineup.

"Let's say Hoiles and Sabo have been hitting behind Baines and Ripken," Oates said. "I change it, and all of the sudden guys are breaking and running all over the place. It's a whole new ballgame if they aren't used to it. For example, a right-handed hitter, just from his peripheral vision, sometimes can tell, 'Ooh, did he get a good jump!' He'll take the pitch. A hitter not used to guys running in front of him can catch that out of the corner of his eye, freeze up and foul one off."

Deciding where to start his lineup took no time at all for Oates.

"Brady doesn't fit the mold of a classic leadoff hitter," Oates said. "He's not someone who will go real deep in the count, but not too many leadoff hitters have the kind of power he has, either. I'm very happy with the job Brady has done. He scores runs, steals bases, gets guys more fastballs to hit."

When Anderson broke into the majors with Boston in 1988, he heard comparisons to Brett Butler. Now, he is considered more in the Lenny Dykstra mold.

"That's very flattering considering the year he just came off of, but I don't compare myself to any other players," Anderson said. "It is interesting, though, how the comparisons have changed. They used to compare me to Brett Butler. I knew that wasn't right. I can't bunt like he can. Fouling a bunch of pitches off, slapping the ball to left, I knew I was never going to be that kind of a player."

Anderson's means differ from Butler's, but when healthy, he proved he can reach the same end: home plate. In 1992, Anderson scored 100 runs, drove in 80, hit 21 home runs and stole 53 bases.

"When I came to the big leagues, a lot of people thought my greatest asset was speed, and they tried to mold me into their idea of what a leadoff hitter should be," Anderson said. "To me, a leadoff hitter is someone who gets on base and scores runs. It doesn't matter how you do it."

Oates didn't hesitate to put Devereaux behind Anderson, and Devereaux had no complaints.

"That's where I was all of '92, so I don't mind," Devereaux said of the year he drove in 107 runs and scored 76.

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