Bunt lays down foundation for bigger things

INSIDE PITCH

June 07, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

Putting the ball down in order to get a batting average up is not a completely lost art. Just one that needs an occasional reminder.

The Orioles, in a subtle way, have been doing just that lately with Brady Anderson. His power gives him an added dimension for a speed player, but the ability to bunt more often for a base hit would enhance his overall effectiveness as a leadoff hitter.

Recently, it has been noted that Anderson has, in baseball lingo, "put the ball on the ground" more than he has in the past two years. He hasn't been overly successful, but the Orioles continue to encourage him not to abandon the bunt as an offensive weapon.

It is something Anderson did often when he first joined the Orioles six years ago, but has gotten away from as his batting numbers have improved. The feeling is, now that he's earned respect as a hitter who can drive the ball, this could be the time to re-introduce the bunt as a weapon.

The theory is that the threat of a bunt for a base hit can be the difference between a ground ball being a base hit rather than a routine out. That point was dramatically emphasized over the weekend by Chicago White Sox outfielder Lance Johnson, who hit what amounted to a five-run triple -- with the bases empty.

It came in the form of a routine ground ball in the ninth inning of a 2-1 game. With one out, the Orioles' defense was noticeably preoccupied with taking the bunt away from Johnson. On each pitch, second baseman Tim Hulett moved in the direction of first, where substitute first baseman Jack Voigt was playing much closer than normal.

Had he been in a routine position, Voigt would've had time to easily field the bouncer Johnson hit down the line. Instead it went for a triple, and set in motion the sequence of events that led to the five runs that broke open the game.

With their defensive positioning, the Orioles did what they were trying to do -- take the bunt away from Johnson. By doing so they did what he needed them to do -- create an opening in the infield.

It was a classic example of the power of the threat of a bunt, rather than the act itself. Every team in the American League knows that Johnson is not bashful about putting the ball down and defense him accordingly.

A few years ago, when he was struggling to stay above the Mendoza (.200) line, Anderson commanded the same defensive strategy.

But, while constantly aware of his speed, the opponents' "book" on Anderson is that he no longer relies on the bunt as a primary offensive weapon.

The result is they defense his power more than his speed. By showing bunt more often, the thinking is Anderson would force more balance between the two -- and open up wider base-hit lanes.

Without advertising the tactic, the Orioles keep offering the reminder.

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