Devereaux gets O's off to big start OPENING DAY '94

April 05, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

Mike Devereaux came to spring training with a sprained ankle, and things went downhill from there. First, he was moved from center field to right. Then, in the first inning of the exhibition season opener, he ran face-first into a chain-link fence while chasing a fly ball, a mishap that earned him several stitches.

Baltimore manager Johnny Oates' outfield experiment -- he also temporarily shifted Brady Anderson from left to center and Jeffrey Hammonds from right to left -- has long been abandoned.

Yesterday, Devereaux looked comfortable in his familiar role.

Devereaux set the tone of the Orioles' season-opening, 6-3 victory over Kansas City. In the bottom of the first inning, his home run deep into the left-field seats off starter Kevin Appier gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead.

Devereaux also walked, stole second and scored on a single by Harold Baines in the fifth inning to give the Orioles a 3-1 lead. And in the third inning, Royals center fielder Brian McRae robbed him of an extra-base hit with a diving catch in right-center field.

If Devereaux leaves last year's injuries and subpar season behind, not to mention his unpleasant start in spring training, he'll remember yesterday as the time the turnaround began.

"Last year, people didn't realize my [shoulder] injury. I was hurt the entire season," said Devereaux, who struggled by batting .250 with 14 home runs after his 24-homer, 107-RBI, career year in 1992. "I worked hard in the off-season and got my shoulder real strong."

The turning point for Devereaux came last month, when Oates returned him to his old position.

"I relaxed immediately. It took a lot off of my mind. Since we don't have the spring training facilities, I had to come to the ballpark and learn how to play the [right field] position," said Devereaux, who played right field briefly in 1989, but has played center since. "I've always liked center field better. Once I moved back to center, I could concentrate on hitting a lot more."

Shortly after returning to center, Devereaux began to show results at the plate. In his last 32 at-bats in the exhibition season, he batted .438. Yesterday, he carried his strong Grapefruit League finish forward by hitting his first Opening Day home run.

"That [the home run] gave us such a good feeling," Oates said. "You don't want to have to go eight innings to get your first hit, much less your first run. And I felt especially good for him [Devereaux], as much as he was moved around. He's been swinging the bat real well for the last two weeks."

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