Anderson restores order Impresses Johnson in O's leadoff role

March 17, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - The context of a conversation Brady Anderson had with former Orioles manager Phil Regan last September may be why Anderson remembers it so well.

Regan had told reporters during the strike, before he saw Anderson play, that he wanted Curtis Goodwin to be his leadoff hitter and Anderson to bat in the middle of the order.

Anderson started the year in the leadoff spot, but Goodwin eventually was called up and replaced Anderson at the top of the order for the final weeks of the season.

With a handful of games remaining in 1995, Regan stopped Anderson one day and mentioned that Anderson had a chance to have a great season, and recited some numbers he read in the paper that day.

Anderson would finish the year with 108 runs scored, rank among the league leaders in doubles and would be one of only two players in the majors to reach double figures in doubles, triples and homers (the other being Chicago White Sox center fielder Lance Johnson).

But Anderson had the sense that Regan was surprised. "Maybe it takes a manager awhile to get to know me," Anderson says now.

It hasn't taken that long for new Orioles manager Davey Johnson. Last October, on the day his hiring was announced, Johnson mentioned Anderson probably wouldn't be the leadoff hitter.

Rather, Johnson was looking for someone with a little higher on-base percentage. When new Orioles GM Pat Gillick was hired, he said just about the same thing.

Opening Day is two weeks away, and Anderson has been employed exclusively in the leadoff spot. Johnson is doing a lot of experimenting with a lot of things Manny Alexander in the outfield, for instance but trying different hitters in the top position in the order isn't one of them.

"He's my leadoff hitter, no question," Johnson said. "I've expressed that to him."

How?

"He can read the lineup," Johnson said.

It could be Johnson did his own reading. Once Johnson determined Roberto Alomar was going to hit second in the order where Alomar was most comfortable in Toronto Anderson was the best available leadoff hitter among the Orioles, with his combination of speed and power.

As a player, Johnson always had a high regard for Bobby Bonds, a leadoff hitter who could steal second if you walked him, or hit a homer if you threw a strike. Anderson stole 26 bases last season and hit 16 homers. (Had the Orioles signed Tony Phillips, as they tried, Johnson's decision might have been different.)

Johnson has always believed in the value of statistics, and Anderson posted some pretty good numbers for a leadoff hitter. He had an on-base percentage of .371, or 21 points higher than the composite on-base percentage for AL leadoff hitters last season.

Anderson's slugging percentage of .444 was 37 points higher than the composite slugging average for AL leadoff hitters.

"When you combine [his on-base percentage] with his power," Johnson said yesterday, "that's a damn good leadoff hitter.

"I think for his ability or what I've seen of his ability he can improve on that. He could raise his average by using all fields. If the infielders are back, then drop [a bunt] down. That's what he's been working on this spring, and I'm very pleased."

Anderson has driven a number of hits to the opposite field this spring, and Johnson is impressed with his swing. "Basically," Johnson said, "he's not trying to lift the ball. If you think about hitting down and through the ball, [think about] doubles. If if you do that, the home runs will come. I don't want him to swing any easier. I want him to drive the ball, but not lift the ball.

"I've seen him drive the ball the other way, which won't happen if you're trying to lift. I think he's in agreement his swing gets a little too big at times."

Anderson wants to keep driving the ball, and he wants to do it consistently for an entire season. "I seem to get hotter and colder than most hitters," he said.

Last year, for instance, he carried the Orioles early, then fell off a bit. He batted .411 in July, slipped to .205 in August and had a strong finish, batting .287 with four homers and 14 RBIs in the final month. Grinding it out, Anderson calls it.

As his preference, he'll be grinding it out the leadoff spot this year.

Pub Date: 3/17/96

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