At 'bottom,' Devo starts climb back


May 04, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Mike Devereaux comes to the ballpark every day, sees his name in the lineup, and tells himself the same thing: "Tomorrow it might all be over with."

He started telling himself that about his slump so many yesterdays ago. Until last night, his slump hadn't listened.

Devereaux, the same player who two seasons ago hit 24 home runs and drove in 107 runs, went into the opener of a two-game series at Oakland Coliseum last night toting a .160 batting average. He had 27 strikeouts in 75 at-bats.

He left the park with his average (.188) still below .200, where it's been since the seventh game of the season, but with two more home runs, three more RBIs and a renewed sense of hope.

Last season, when Devereaux hit .250 with 14 home runs and 75 RBIs, the decline was attributed largely to a shoulder injury. He said he feels fine physically now.

"It's definitely mental," Devereaux said before last night's game. "There were times when I was hitting the ball hard and not getting anything out of it. But that's just baseball. Mentally, it gets worse and worse and pretty soon you hit rock bottom. Hopefully, I'm there now."

A career .228 hitter in April, Devereaux said, "I've never been a fast starter. April's over with so maybe I will come out of it. I definitely see signs of coming out of it."

His words proved prophetic. Last night Devereaux had two bases-empty home runs and an RBI single in the Orioles' rout of Oakland. He also had his 28th strikeout of the season.

Hitting coach Greg Biagini has watched tapes with Devereaux, done extra drills and instructed him during batting practice. He likes what he sees . . . and then the game starts.

"He knows what he needs to do and he does it, but he doesn't bring it into the game with him," Biagini said yesterday afternoon. "A lot of it is the mental part, accepting what it is we're trying to do. You can't second-guess yourself out there. You can't get into the game and revert to the old way of doing things."

Biagini said Devereaux has been guilty of committing too early and leaving himself exposed to the outside pitch.

"He's worrying about hitting the inside pitch too much and it's the outside pitch he's not hitting," Biagini said. "He's just a hair too early."

Biagini has prepared a tape of Devereaux's "good swings," for Devereaux's use at home or the ballpark.

"Coming out of spring training the last two weeks I figured he had it," Biagini said. "I was expecting big things of him. And I still am. The season is early. He will get it. There's no doubt in my mind."

Said Devereaux: "I have to get more aggressive. When I get a good pitch to hit, I have to go after it."

Eligible for free agency at the end of the season, Devereaux has a lot at stake. Only drastic improvement will enable him to match his 1994 salary of $3.375 million.

Might that pressure be weighing on him? "No, it's too early for that," said Devereaux.

Last night's was Devereaux's sixth consecutive game after missing five in a row with a strained groin.

Rookie right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds replaced Devereaux in the second spot in the order during his absence and gave the Orioles no reason to move him back to the ninth spot, where he began the season.

The Orioles' lineup featured their nine Opening Day hitters last night for the first time since April 20. Devereaux batted second then, and was eighth last night.

Leadoff hitter Brady Anderson was in a slump, though not as deep as Devereaux's, until breaking out of it last week.

Anderson, tied for second in strikeouts (22) with Chris Hoiles heading, had pumped his batting average to .258 with a week in which he batted .379, had three doubles, three home runs, eight RBIs and eight runs in seven games. He was the only Orioles starter not to have a hit last night.

Devereaux's 28 strikeouts rank him third in the American League, trailing only California's Tim Salmon (33), the Rookie of the Year in 1993, and 1994 Rookie of the Year candidate Carlos Delgado (30) of Toronto.

Devereaux has made the most of his limited contact. Eight of his 14 hits have been for extra bases, including six home runs after his two last night.


If Mike Devereaux continues to strike out at his current pace, and plays 133 games this year (his average per year for five years with the Orioles), he will whiff 186 times, just short of Bobby Bonds' major-league record of 189, set in 1970. If he plays as many games as Bonds did that year (157), his current pace would shatter the record, bringing the total to 220.

NOTE: Devereaux's strikeout pace based on statistics through last night's game.

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