Anderson leading off still best plan of attack

INSIDE PITCH

July 04, 1995|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

Once he reached the big leagues, it took Brady Anderson four years to convince people he wasn't the slap-hitting type. Now, three years later, he finds himself on the other side of the debate.

Thanks to Curtis Goodwin's spectacular debut, Phil Regan finds himself in an unusual quandary for an Orioles manager. He has two legitimate leadoff hitters.

For years, ever since Al Bumbry left after the 1984 season, the Orioles seemed to be in a constant search for someone to hit in the No. 1 spot. That was a primary reason the Orioles insisted Anderson be included in the Mike Boddicker trade with the Red Sox in 1988.

Finally the Orioles had a bona fide leadoff hitter -- or so they thought. Anderson brought the speed, and occasional bunting ability, they needed to the top of the lineup. Overlooked, however, was the fact that Anderson had spent most of his minor-league career hitting third in the order.

While the Orioles tried to convince Anderson of the advantages of hitting to the opposite field, he floundered at the plate. His best single-season average was .231 before Johnny Oates installed him as his everyday leadoff hitter in 1992 -- and told him to swing naturally.

The change was as dramatic as it was surprising. In the next three years, including last year's strike-abbreviated season, Anderson hit 46 home runs and drove in 194 runs. Those numbers were so impressive that Regan figured if he could find another leadoff hitter, Anderson's speed and power would be a boon to the bottom part of the batting order.

With Goodwin now solidly in the picture -- and Chris Hoiles struggling -- Regan has toyed with the idea of dropping Anderson to No. 6. Whatever temptation there might be to hit Goodwin and Anderson back to back at the top of the lineup is easily resisted because the Orioles would be overloaded with three left-handers at the top of the lineup (four of the first five) and vulnerable to left-handed relievers.

Goodwin has prospered hitting ninth, his current position, and first, and Anderson probably would do likewise. In addition, it's the best way to have the two together while providing speed at both the top and bottom of the lineup.

Anderson doesn't have the Orioles' best on-base percentage, but he does lead the team in walks and runs scored, and his track record is more extensive than Goodwin's.

Ultimately, if Goodwin continues to hit .357, his average going into last night's game, he can bat almost anywhere he wants in the lineup. But for now, the Orioles' biggest concern is to get some of their slumping hitters untracked.

If the Orioles can't find a No. 6 (and/or No. 7) hitter from among Hoiles, Jeffrey Hammonds, Jeff Manto (when he returns) and Kevin Bass, then they will continue to struggle.

As good as Anderson's numbers are as a leadoff hitter, they would be just mediocre in the sixth spot. And hitting behind Goodwin seems to be working to the advantage of both.

And, if it comes down to having a choice between which of the two you'd rather have an extra at-bat, Anderson would appear to be the logical choice.

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