Observant Down sees a lot, but says a little Hitting coach offers input, when it's requested

Orioles notebook

March 08, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The first thing some of the Orioles hitters noticed about new batting coach Rick Down is that he could go unnoticed. Down will stand behind the cage during batting practice and say nothing, just observing.

But as soon as they ask a question, look for some input, he is ready to comply, offering suggestions. His responses often are couched in a positive way: You're doing this really well. You might want to try this, too. . . .

This is Down's manner, practiced over years as a hitting coach and minor-league manager. And it could be that Down is doing a lot more watching than talking this spring, as he evaluates a new set of hitters.

He likes what he sees. "We can do a lot of things," Down said. "We've got some power, we've got some speed, we can manufacture some runs. We've got good protection in the lineup, one through nine."

Down, on Brady Anderson: "I think Brady is trying to go the other way, to left field."

On Roberto Alomar: "He's one of the best ballplayers right now, a great hitter from both sides of the plate. Even if he goes 0-for-3, he's going to make a contribution [to your offense] in some way."

On Rafael Palmeiro: "He's got a great swing. You make a mistake, and he'll make you pay. He always makes good contact."

On Bobby Bonilla: "Very aggressive. You put a runner at third with nobody out, and he'll drive him in. The other thing about him is he'll take a base on balls."

On B. J. Surhoff: "He's a great professional hitter. He protects the strike zone, takes advantage of the count, he's a left-handed hitter who hits left-handers pretty well. Very strong."

On Cal Ripken: "Last year, as good as he was for baseball, I'm sure it was tough for him to keep his focus [on his hitting]. I'm sure he'll have a lot better year than he did last year."

On Chris Hoiles: "Again, I'm looking for him to have a much better year than he did last year. The biggest thing for him is to hit the ball the other way. He feels as if he does that, the [power to left] comes naturally."

On Jeffrey Hammonds: "The biggest thing for him is to play. I think if he stays healthy, he'll play more regularly, and that's important for his development."

On Sherman Obando: "He hasn't met a fastball he doesn't like. . . . I think the important thing is he doesn't think every at-bat is a test. I think Sherman knows right now he belongs in the big leagues."

On Mike Devereaux: "There's another guy on this team, you stand next to him and you realize that this is a strong guy. I think he's going to be helped by his success [in the postseason]. This is a game of success and failure, and I think that's going to help his confidence."

Soreness slows Percibal

Billy Percibal, one of the Orioles' top pitching prospects, will be rested for the next five days because of tenderness in his elbow. Percibal had elbow trouble last year, a problem that required arthroscopic surgery to clean up the joint. Percibal was hit hard in two innings of relief against Boston Wednesday, allowing three hits, two walks and three runs. If healthy, Percibal is expected to pitch at Double-A Bowie this season. . . . Devereaux was scratched from yesterday's lineup because of a strained right quad. Mark Smith was inserted into his DH spot. . . . It remains to be seen if Obando will show enough ability on defense to make the club, but manager Davey Johnson loves his bat. "He's not afraid of anybody out there," Johnson said. "I wouldn't be either, if I was that big." Obando went 2-for-5

yesterday, with a triple, two runs and an RBI.

Zaun grows in boss' eyes

The more Gregg Zaun plays, the more Johnson seems comfortable with the idea of having him as the No. 2 catcher. The perceived weakness for Zaun has always been his hitting, and he had another productive day at the plate yesterday, with a two-run single in his first at-bat.

"He's doing a good job," Johnson said. "We're going to go slowly with Hoiles. I don't want any setbacks with him. When you have someone like that, you have to make sure you have confidence in somebody to be your No. 2 hitter."

Zaun, Johnson said, "has done nothing to diminish the confidence I have in him."

'Foxholes' and 'enemies'

Surhoff, Johnson said, "is a foxhole guy."

Johnson defines a foxhole guy as someone you'd go to battle with, a guy who could be in a foxhole with you and cover your blind side.

"You know he's not going to be out there snoozing on third. . . . He may not be Brooks Robinson with the glove, but he'll give you 150 percent." . . . Orioles general manager Pat Gillick, the longtime GM of the Toronto Blue Jays, got a chance to see old friends, too, in enemy uniforms.

"It's a little bit of a strange feeling," Gillick said. "I was here for 20 years. It's just like everything else: Sometimes you make a change and you have to live with it."

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