Minus Hammonds, Oates must second-guess

INSIDE PITCH

June 11, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

When Johnny Oates shuffled five players in the Orioles batting order Wednesday, it took on the appearance of a mass overhaul. In reality, the move was made in an attempt to try to find one player, Mike Devereaux, a comfortable spot in the lineup.

The switch, basically, was to flip-flop Devereaux with Mark McLemore in the Nos. 2 and 8 slots. However, to make it feasible required further realignment to avoid an open invitation for a left-handed reliever. A switch-hitter who is decidedly better from the left side (McLemore) sandwiched among three left-handed hitters (Brady Anderson, Rafael Palmeiro and Harold Baines) at the top of the lineup could invite disaster.

In the past two years, Devereaux and McLemore have had career seasons batting second. Neither has approximated those figures this time around, with Devereaux primarily the No. 2 man and McLemore hitting eighth.

But they were not, are not, interchangeable parts. Their games are different. McLemore is a slap-it-around kind of hitter and Devereaux an air-it-out hacker.

In the original lineup devised by Oates, Devereaux figured to benefit as the only right-handed hitter among the first four. To this point at least, that hasn't transpired, though more emphasis should be placed on the center fielder's 70-plus RBI pace than his .209 batting average.

Moving McLemore back to the No. 2 hole, where he had great success a year ago, always has appeared to be the most viable option. But, for the long term, the move wasn't feasible without further rearranging the batting order by using Cal Ripken to separate the left-handed hitters.

Whether the new arrangement lasts will depend on the Orioles' run production, but one thing it emphasizes is how the absence of Jeffrey Hammonds has affected the club's offense. When Oates made his moves the other night, it was noted that five players changed positions in the batting order.

What went almost unnoticed was that only one player in the lineup -- leadoff hitter Anderson -- was in the same spot he occupied when the season started. The injury to Chris Sabo, the re-emergence of Leo Gomez and the mediocre start by Chris Hoiles have been major factors.

But Hammonds is the one guy who can bat in any of the affected positions -- and make an impact. Which is what makes it so imperative for the Orioles to get a reading as soon as possible on his availability for the rest of the year -- and then react accordingly.

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