Versatile Alomar is O so helpful O's hitters, fielders both should benefit

February 23, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Orioles manager Davey Johnson had plenty on his mind yesterday morning -- the whereabouts of reliever Randy Myers, for instance -- and then a reporter complicated his life tenfold by asking a single question: How will All-Star Roberto Alomar help the Orioles?

"Look," he said, "we could talk about that until we're blue in the face. There are literally hundreds of reasons."

For instance:

1. Defensive range.

Alomar may cover more ground, to his left and to his right and in front of him, than any infielder in baseball.

"He turns hits into outs," said outfielder Brady Anderson. "I can't remember how many times the guy has gone into the hole and grabbed a ball and popped up and thrown to first."

His presence should help the range of others in the infield, said general manager Pat Gillick. Because Alomar can cover so much ground up the middle, shortstop Cal Ripken "will be able to play in the shortstop hole a little more," Gillick said.

With Ripken moved closer to third, enabling the third baseman -- B. J. Surhoff or Bobby Bonilla -- to play a little closer to the third base line, it decreases the chances of a ball hit down the line getting through. "He's also going to help [Rafael Palmeiro] at first," said Gillick.

2. Defensive preparation and anticipation.

Ripken mentioned this Wednesday. Alomar, who plays baseball virtually year-round, has a passion like Ripken's about positioning, anticipating the best place to play a certain hitter on a certain count when the pitcher is going to throw a certain pitch.

"I think it's the most underrated part of his game," Johnson said, "and it may be the most important."

Gillick said: "He has great awareness. We've probably got two of the smarter players in baseball at shortstop and second."

3. Athleticism.

Alomar will turn a botched play into an out, with his grace, agility and strength. "He does things a little differently than anybody else," Anderson said. "He'll get to a ball and jump up on one leg and get more on his throw than anybody else."

If, Ripken said, the shortstop makes a bad throw at the start of a double play, Alomar has the ability to recover and complete the throw to first. "At least, I hope he does," Ripken joked, reaching over to put a hand on Alomar's shoulder.

Alomar is extremely adept at relaying the ball from the outfield, Gillick noted, in strength and accuracy; between Ripken and Alomar, then, the Orioles have two of the better relay men in the game.

4. Offense.

Alomar has hit .300 or better and had more walks than strikeouts in each of the last four seasons, averaged 41 stolen bases over the past five years, and averaged 13 homers over the last three years. He'll likely hit second, right between leadoff man Anderson and Palmeiro.

"He'll help everybody in the lineup," said Anderson. "Put another hitter like him in the lineup and you're putting more pressure on the pitcher."

But Alomar may help Anderson, Palmeiro and cleanup hitter Bonilla more directly.

"I think what you'll see is Brady will get better pitches to hit," said Johnson. "He'll get more fastballs, because pitchers will be worried about maybe walking him and having to pitch to Alomar with runners on base."

Gillick says Alomar should help Anderson steal bases, as well, as he did in Toronto with Devon White. "Alomar has a great ability to take pitches," Gillick said. "He has great vision and instinct -- he knows which pitches to take. I think he gave Devon at least two pitches to run on. He spotted the pitcher at least one strike and gave Devon the opportunity to run."

When Alomar reaches base, he's a major threat to steal. "He's going to create holes in the infield for me," said Palmeiro, "because they'll be holding him on base. He'll force pitchers to throw me more fastballs, because they're going to want to give their catchers a chance to throw him out."

Palmeiro, Bonilla and Surhoff, Johnson said, are going to get a lot of chances "to drive in a whole lot of runs."

5. Intangibles.

Alomar is 28 and already he's played eight full seasons in the big leagues, serving in a major role for two championship clubs. "What he brings in intangibles," Gillick said, "is his aggressiveness and instinctive style of play."

Translated: He constantly puts opponents on the defensive. Pitchers, catchers, managers, hitters frustrated by his glove work.

Alomar told a friend recently that he couldn't wait to play for the Orioles, join a good team with a chance to win the World Series. Toronto, his previous team, is just starting to rebuild, and he wanted to play for a potential winner.

"I want to help this team get to the next level," he said. "I want to win another World Series."

Not mere idle talk for Alomar, a player who should help the Orioles in so many ways.

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