If awkward, Sabo's been right man for job

INSIDE PITCH

June 21, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

A long-standing baseball adage insists that you can't hide a weak link -- in the batting order or in the field.

Invariably a slumping hitter comes to the plate at the least opportune time. And flying baseballs always seem to find those who are playing out of position.

So when Orioles manager Johnny Oates decided to risk using Chris Sabo in the outfield, the general reaction was predictable.

3' "It's only a matter of time [before

the experiment causes defensive problems]," was the consensus.

That was almost two weeks ago, and while the transition hasn't been as smooth as it has been exciting, "a matter of time" hasn't arrived yet. Since moving from left field to right field after the Orioles returned from Boston, Sabo has had a few adventures, but nothing drastic enough for Oates to consider a different combination.

"He hasn't made any mistakes out there," said Oates. "He doesn't always look pretty doing it, but he's getting the job done."

2& And the scorecard is definitely in

Sabo's favor. In the 11 games he's played in the outfield he has produced more than a run per game -- hitting .314 (16-for-51), with three home runs and 14 RBIs.

Some balls that appeared catchable have found open space with Sabo in right field. But those judgments are based on the unknown -- what might've happened had someone else been there.

When Paul Blair was being platooned in his final years with the Orioles, every time a ball fell safely into center field, the common observation was "Blair would've caught that ball." Since Blair was the pre

mier center fielder of his time, it was usually a valid assumption.

At least it was until a short pop fly fell into shallow center field one day in Milwaukee, if memory serves correctly. "Blair would've caught that ball," piped someone in the press box -- before realizing that Blair had entered the game as a defensive replacement. So far, Sabo hasn't reminded anybody of Mark McLemore, let alone Blair, but he's been able to get the job done.

And as long as his bat is talking like it has been, the chances are his infielder's arm and quick release will survive.

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