With their 1-2 punch, O's are taking a hit

May 19, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Brady Anderson had the answer.

"We don't want to show each other up," he deadpanned before last night's game.

"And," Mike Devereaux added grimly at the next locker, "we're not."

No, the Orioles' 1-2 hitters couldn't be accused of embarrassing each other with their hitting prowess entering last night's 5-2 loss to Boston.

They were a combined 2-for-37 in their previous five games. Devereaux led the club with 37 strikeouts. Anderson was third with 30.

Stupid batting tricks.

But what could the Orioles do?

If Anderson and Devereaux are still slumping a month from now, feel free to phone your favorite radio talk show and demand that manager Johnny Oates juggle his lineup.

Until then, calm down.

Anderson looked just as awful at this time a year ago, and Devereaux is a streaky hitter coming off a terrifying beaning. Rest assured, neither is this bad.

Right now, Oates has little choice but to stay with them at the top of the order -- especially Anderson, who is always capable of drawing a walk.

Indeed, the lineup question is almost incidental. If Anderson and Devereaux don't recover, it doesn't matter where they bat -- the Orioles are doomed.

The good news is, both players showed life last night, hitting back-to-back singles to trigger the Orioles' two-run first. Anderson reached base three times. Devereaux went 1-for-4.

Put it this way -- they're not the only reason the Orioles are ranked 12th in the league in runs. Last night, the club's bottom four hitters (Chris Hoiles, Leo Gomez, Mark McLemore and Jack Voigt) went 0-for-13 with six strikeouts.

Ron Gant, please hurry.

As frequently as Anderson and Devereaux are striking out, Oates has nothing to lose by breaking them up in the batting order if things don't change soon.

Talk about disturbing: Two years ago, Anderson stole more bases (53) than the Red Sox (44). This season, Boston's Otis Nixon (14) might steal more bases than the Orioles (17).

Oates said he has considered replacing Devereaux in the No. 2 spot with McLemore, but McLemore is a switch-hitter whose career average is nearly 100 points higher from the right side.

In effect, the switch would leave the Orioles with four left-handed hitters at the top of their order, followed by five right-handers. "Not too tough to manage against that, is it?" Oates said.

Thus, Oates' options are limited -- unless he wants to take the drastic step of batting Cal Ripken second. Ripken probably is the best Orioles' hit-and-run man. But he also leads the club in RBIs.

Other possibilities? Jeffrey Hammonds could return to the No. 2 spot when he comes off the disabled list. Chris Sabo also could bat second when healthy. "He can hit anywhere in the lineup," Oates said.

Still, the Orioles are best with Anderson and Devereaux clicking. As hitting coach Greg Biagini said, "Every at-bat, they've got to believe, this is the at-bat that can turn it around."

Devereaux believes it. He said the beaning hasn't affected him -- not when he went 3-for-8 in his first two games back. The pressure surrounding his free-agent season? He doesn't buy that excuse, either.

"It's something that's mental," said Devereaux, who remains in a 1-for-23 slump. "I know I have the ability. I know it'll be there. It can happen any day. It can happen any at-bat."

Anderson sees it the same way. His statistics after 36 games are nearly identical to his numbers at this point last season -- and he wound up leading the club in eight offensive categories.

"Last year I buried myself at the beginning," Anderson said. "I told myself I wasn't going to do that again. All I had to do this year was be more consistent, and that wouldn't happen. Well, it happened."

Even in good times, Anderson strikes out a lot for a leadoff man, but the Orioles accept that in return for his extra-base power. What they can't accept is his current strikeout rate -- once every 4.8 at-bats -- and his .321 on-base percentage.

It's funny, because Anderson is in the opposite position of Devereaux -- he's the one with a three-year, $10.25 million contract, the one who is so entrenched with Oates, he has started every game even though he's batting .215.

Is Anderson too comfortable? The question is bound to surface if his slump continues, but he's too proud to let his game deteriorate. "I don't see what the difference is," he said.

"When you're playing, the contract doesn't buy you any happiness, make you feel more content. The only thing that does that is playing well. It feels just as bad as always after a bad game."

He feels bad, Devereaux feels bad.

$ The Orioles do, too.

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