Beaning takes deep bite out of Devereaux's bat

June 10, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

BOSTON -- You get hit in the face with a pitched baseball and it messes with your head. Not just the exterior, either.

"You could say that," Orioles center fielder Mike Devereaux said.

He should know.

A fastball thrown by the Cleveland Indians' Chad Ogea hit Devereaux on the left cheek May 8. It sent him to his knees and brought blood flowing out of his mouth and onto the turf. He was back in the lineup the next night, swollen cheek and all, wearing a specially designed protective earflap.

Within days, all visible signs of the beaning had disappeared. The impact had not. Still hasn't.

"I definitely feel it was a setback when I got hit," Devereaux said. "You might not seem jumpy at the plate, but it goes through your mind when a pitcher releases the ball."

Fortunately, Devereaux was turning his head, which kept the pitch from hitting him flush and breaking a bone.

"I was lucky," Devereaux said. "I know that. But I still wasn't far. . . ."

From being unlucky.

The element of fear, always somewhere in the brain of anyone who holds a bat standing 60 feet, 6 inches away from a pitcher, often gains more substance and moves to the forefront when a hitter is beaned.

"It's never totally out of your mind," Devereaux said. "It's a situation where I tell myself not to think about it, but when one comes close to me now, I think about it, then I get right back in there."

In the three games leading up to it, plus the game in which he was beaned, Devereaux went 7-for-15 with three home runs and nine RBIs. Finally, he was convinced, he had broken out of a season-long slump.

Then he was hit in the face.

Devereaux has not homered in the 28 games since and has driven in just six runs and had two extra-base hits in 111 at-bats.

He is batting .209 and has struck out 51 times in 51 games.

"I've had a lot of close calls before that and I just got out of the way," Devereaux said. "I didn't think about those that much. Once there's a connection, you think about it."

Devereaux's mechanical flaw at the plate is one commonly expressed by slumping hitters.

"I know what I'm doing," Devereaux said. "I'm pulling off the ball."

His front shoulder is flying open and his head follows suit, pulling away from the plate.

"When you are pulling off the ball, you don't hit the ball on the good part of the bat," Devereaux said. "You're not seeing the ball well and you won't cover the plate."

Problems from outside in

Devereaux most certainly has not been covering the plate, specifically, the outside part of the plate.

He always has had trouble laying off low-and-away breaking balls. Now, he is having trouble with all pitches on the outside part of the plate.

Devereaux proved his mettle by getting back in there the very next night, but burying the effects of the pitch will take longer.

Frank Robinson, who ranks fourth on baseball's all-time home run list with 586, was noted for being as tough as any hitter in

the game at crowding the plate and taking the inside pitch away from the pitcher.

He can empathize with Devereaux.

"That's only natural," Robinson said of the effects of the beaning on Devereaux. "It took me a half a year to get over mine."

Robinson was beaned by Camilo Pascual above the left ear in a preseason exhibition game in Portsmouth, Ohio, in 1958.

Three months later, Robinson purged his fears.

"We had an exhibition in Seattle after the All-Star break and I had a talk with myself in my hotel room before that game," Robinson said. "I told myself if I continued to do what I was doing I would be back in the minor leagues. I asked myself, 'Now are you going to let these guys do that to you?' I told myself to hit everything to right field and keep my front shoulder in. I got three hits in four bats that night and hit everything to right field, including two pitches inside, and including a changeup. The next night we played San Francisco and I was off and running."

Can Devereaux's mechanical flaw be linked in part to the beaning?

"No doubt about it," Robinson said. "Even if it's just subconscious, your mind tells you don't go out over the plate, don't go out over the plate. You automatically pull away from the plate. When Mike is going well he drives the pitch out over the plate into right-center and pulls the inside pitch."

Pre-beaning woes, too

Devereaux had serious problems at the plate before the beaning, as well. Since after the first week of the season, his batting average has not been higher than .224.

Eligible for free agency at season's end, Devereaux hasn't helped his cause yet. From the failed right-field experiment in spring training to the early rash of strikeouts, to the beaning, it has been one mishap after another for Devereaux, who in 1992 drove in 107 runs.

"I know I'm going to come through," Devereaux said. "Every day I come to the ballpark thinking this is going to be the day I break out of it."

Devereaux would like nothing better than to be right when he tells himself that this weekend at Fenway Park, where the Orioles have a chance to grab a share of second place in the American League East by winning tonight against the Boston Red Sox.

Six different players drove in a run in the Orioles' 6-4 win Wednesday over the Kansas City Royals.

One in particular made Orioles manager Johnny Oates happy.

"I was happy to see Devo get a hit and drive in a run. It's been a rough year for him from the first inning of spring training, when he ran into the fence in right field and had to have stitches," said Oates, who dropped Devereaux from second to eighth in the batting order. "Then he had the muscle pull, then he was hit in the face. He's been through a lot, but it hasn't messed with his effort one single bit."

ORIOLES TONIGHT

Opponent: Boston Red Sox

Site: Fenway Park, Boston

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Jamie Moyer (2-4, 5.05) vs. Red Sox's Danny Darwin (7-4, 5.50)

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