Surhoff spells experience E5 Start at third base nets two errors

March 09, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Having a coach hit grounders to you on an otherwise empty field has value. But what B. J. Surhoff really requires as he reacclimates himself at third base, he explained before the Orioles' exhibition against the Atlanta Braves, is game experience.

Like dealing with batters who can bunt, right-handed hitters who might smash a one-hopper off your shins, the distraction of runners on the move. Surhoff dealt with all that yesterday and received a heavy dose of game experience.

He had some good game experience, starting a double play by stepping on third and throwing home, and bare-handing an infield chopper and throwing to first. But Surhoff had more than ++ his share of bad game experience -- he committed a couple of errors that contributed greatly to Atlanta's 11-3 victory, and heard boos from critics sitting in the stands.

"It's not going to happen overnight," said Surhoff.

He'll get lots more game experience before manager Davey Johnson chooses Surhoff or Bobby Bonilla as his third baseman.

"If he had played there all last year, I'd be concerned," Johnson said. "But he's trying to reacquaint himself over there right now. . . . I don't have to make that decision until April 1."

But Johnson wants Surhoff to establish himself as the third baseman this spring. Surhoff spent most of his career in Milwaukee as a catcher, then moved to third base. Last year, he played almost everywhere, catching and playing some at first and in all three spots in the outfield.

He didn't play a game at third, however. When Johnson called him this winter to ask where he'd like to play, Surhoff talked about getting a shot to play third base every day, and Johnson agreed.

So, since he arrived in camp the third week of February, Surhoff has been taking grounders at third daily. He looked terrible early in camp, catching dozens of grounders off his shins. With each workout, he appeared more and more comfortable, and he gradually has looked better and better there; even as Johnson says Surhoff bore no resemblance to Brooks Robinson, he praised him for his effort.

But yesterday, Surhoff looked like a catcher/outfielder trying to convert to third.

He played in close in the first inning, with right-handed-hitting Marquis Grissom at the plate. Grissom pulled a hard shot past Surhoff, and after that, Surhoff played a little deeper.

That may have led to his first error. With one out and nobody on base in the second inning, the Orioles trailing 2-1, Atlanta left fielder Jermaine Dye bounced a grounder toward Surhoff. He began to move backward.

But realizing he couldn't allow the ball to hop once more and expect to throw out Dye, Surhoff came in and tried to short-hop the bouncer. He failed, the ball hitting off his shins and rolling into foul territory.

Dye moved to second on a subsequent grounder and, with two out, Grissom slapped another roller to Surhoff. He fielded cleanly, but he saw Dye moving toward him from second base.

Surhoff thought for just an instant about tagging Dye. It's something he has done a couple of times this spring, looking to tag the runner rather than just throw to first. Johnson has told him to forget about the runner coming down from second and just throw to first.

Surhoff took a step in to tag Dye. But when he didn't, he threw to first to get the speedy Grissom. Not even close. Surhoff's throw sailed four or five feet over the head of first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.

Dye scored, Grissom ended up on second. Surhoff turned and stared off in the general direction of the Atlantic Ocean, his frustration obvious to all. The Braves would get four more hits and score four more runs. All with two out, all after Surhoff's second error.

As he ran off the field, Surhoff caught up to pitcher David Wells and apologized for his gaffes. Wells shrugged off the apology -- Don't worry about it -- and put a comforting hand on Surhoff's shoulder. Hang in there.

The fans who witnessed the errors weren't quite as understanding, cascading boos on Surhoff when he came to bat in the bottom of the second, unusual for the first week of exhibition games.

Surhoff rebounded somewhat, starting the double play in the third and making the bare-handed grab and throw to first two innings after that. Johnson noted that when he defended Surhoff's play later.

"If he has a bad game or two, I don't give a [darn]," Johnson said. "I want him to be comfortable. I don't want him thinking every day is an audition over there."

Surhoff said: "I just made some bad plays. . . . I had a lot of plays today, some of them tough. Actually, the easiest ones were the ones I didn't make."

All lessons to be learned in game experience.

Pub Date: 3/09/96

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