Hammonds vows to return to O's a 'better player' Slumping outfielder sent to Rochester to find 'right avenue'

Mark Smith is recalled

Johnson: Hammonds needs to define himself

June 18, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

The second stage of Jeffrey Hammonds' career begins today in Pawtucket, R.I.

It's hardly Fenway Park or Camden Yards, but Hammonds, 25, a big-leaguer since 1993, is willing to do another tour of Triple-A ballparks with the Rochester Red Wings in his quest to become a star at the major-league level. It drives him.

Hammonds was dubbed a can't-miss prospect after being taken fourth overall in the 1992 draft, and he had always thought of himself as an impact player -- until this year.

He was hitting .237 with just six home runs and 19 RBIs in nearly 200 at-bats this season, so Mark Smith was recalled from Rochester yesterday to take his spot in left field.

"I had an opportunity, and I didn't fulfill it . . . yet," Hammonds said while cleaning out his locker at Camden Yards. "I wasn't going down the right avenue. I was supposed to be not only an impact ballplayer, but sort of a leader. Maybe I was slotting myself just to be a supporting role player. I don't like the way I was going. I wasn't waking up feeling the way I should.

"The game has never been that hard to me. I've never left the field saying 'man, this game is frustrating' for more than a day and a half. It's been a month and a half now that I've been saying that."

Hammonds was very upbeat yesterday, taking the demotion in stride. He has 72 hours to report to Rochester, but he said he'll be in uniform and ready to play tonight.

"I'm not negative about it," Hammonds said. "There's still a lot of season left. I could be back up here in two weeks, I could be back up here in two months. When I do come back, I just want to be a better ballplayer. I just want to go out there and fulfill my potential."

Orioles manager Davey Johnson met behind closed doors with Hammonds yesterday. Johnson wants Hammonds to be more selective at the plate. Johnson says he believes Hammonds was struggling to define himself as a power hitter or someone who hits for average, and it was hindering him at the plate.

He wants Hammonds to assert himself in Triple-A and play center field, a position he has not manned this year with the Orioles.

"I want him to start being the kind of player that everybody thinks he can be," Johnson said. "To do that, he needs to be aggressive and start playing smart. He needs to decide what kind of a player he wants to be. To me, he's not sure. If he concentrates on just being a good hitter, he'll hit his share of home runs."

Johnson also wants to get a good look at Smith, who has played four years at Rochester. Smith, the ninth overall selection in 1991, was just sent down again June 6 after posting tremendous numbers in the International League.

He has just 128 major-league at-bats, going 3-for-16 (.188) in spot duty before his most recent demotion, but he will now see regular action with the Orioles.

"I would be crazy to want to leave this organization," said Smith, who in Rochester last Wednesday claimed to be "beyond mad" in requesting a trade after raising his Red Wings average to .402. "I don't want to leave a team that's going for a pennant. There are a bunch of great minds for me to learn from here.

"If the organization feels like I don't have a place here and they want to trade me for pitching, that's baseball. I'd like to fit in somewhere. I'd love for it to be here."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Texas Rangers

Site: Oriole Park

Time: 7: 35

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Rangers' Darren Oliver (5-2, 3.86) vs. Orioles' Kent Mercker (3-5, 6.79)

Tickets: 1,800 remain

Free falling

After a fast start, Jeffrey Hammonds fell into a deep slump that has seen his average drop from .305 to .237 in less than two months:

Week starting Avg.

April 7 ..... .286

April 21 .... .305

May 5 ....... .266

May 19 ...... .233

June 2 ...... .244

` June 16 ..... .237

Pub Date: 6/18/96

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