Retooling gets sparks in offense

July 23, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,Sun Staff Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Orioles got six hits from third baseman Leo Gomez and catcher Greg Zaun in Friday night's victory, six hits from two players who hadn't contributed much offensively this year.

It seemed like a fluke. But last night, Zaun and Gomez both homered, and, Orioles manager Phil Regan said, their recent contributions make sense because both players have been making adjustments in their hitting.

Gomez, who lost his job as regular third baseman in May and is bidding to win it back, has moved an inch or two closer to home plate, a suggestion made by Regan during batting practice Friday. "That's so I can cover the outside part of the plate better," Gomez said.

bTC Many pitchers, Gomez said, have been getting him out by trying to throw pitches over the outside corner. Gomez has often reached out and dribbled a grounder or popped up to the left side.

The Royals tried that Friday, and Gomez had three singles -- one of which came on a fastball low and away. Then last night, Royals starter Mark Gubicza tried slipping a fastball over the plate, down and away, and Gomez slammed a homer into the left-field stands.

Zaun's problem, as he describes it, was not drawing his hands back quickly enough as he cocked his bat to swing. Orioles hitting coach Lee May pointed out that as Zaun stepped into his swing, he was drawing his hands back, rather than step sooner (( and start moving his hands in a separate motion.

"That's allowed me to load up [on my swing]," Zaun said.

Load, and fire. Getting his hands started more quickly, Zaun pulled his RBI hits on Friday. In the third inning last night, Gubicza threw the Orioles catcher a hanging slider, which Zaun lifted over the right-field wall, for his second major-league homer.

Zaun's burst of offense may give him more chances to play. In Minnesota on Thursday, Regan put a pinch hitter in for him in the seventh inning.

L "Can you bunt?" Regan asked Zaun before making his decision.

"I can hit," Zaun said, matter of factly.

That night, after the Orioles flew to Kansas City, Zaun went to dinner with Harold Baines, who told the rookie that there was one way he could avoid being pinch-hit for, and that was to hit better.

"I view that as a challenge," Zaun said. "I want to prove to him and everybody else I can handle that situation."

Zaun is moving in the right direction. Front foot, then the hands.

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