Return Alomar to 2-hole, before O's dig a deeper one

June 24, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

The Orioles tonight open their biggest road trip of the seaso with their offense sputtering. General manager Pat Gillick says a quick fix is unlikely, and even if he could make a dramatic trade, it probably would be for a pitcher.

Thus, it's the responsibility of manager Davey Johnson to revive his attack in Texas and New York, where the Orioles will face first-place teams ranking second and fourth, respectively, in the American League in ERA.

He can start with a lineup change.

Now batting second, Roberto Alomar.

It wouldn't be a major shake-up -- Alomar began the season in the second spot. And now that Bobby Bonilla is back to hitting like a cleanup hitter, the original lineup makes sense.

Since Alomar, who is batting .373, was dropped to the No. 3 spot on May 9, Johnson has tried six replacements in the No. 2 hole, and still is looking for a player who can handle the job.

K? Luis Polonia is supposed to be that guy, "an ideal two-hole

hitter," Johnson said. But Polonia struck out and grounded into two double plays in yesterday's 4-0 loss to Kansas City.

Granted, none of the Orioles solved Kevin Appier, who struck out 11 in eight innings. But the offense was sluggish throughout the 3-3 homestand, and the problems in the two hole began almost the moment Johnson removed Alomar.

Frankly, the Orioles need another outfielder who can hit, regardless of his position in the lineup. If Alomar had batted second yesterday, the bottom of their order probably would have been Polonia (.239), Mark Smith (.200) and Gregg Zaun (.247).

Gillick wouldn't rule out a trade -- "if the right situation came around, we'd go ahead and do something" -- but with so many of his players making big money, his hands are tied.

"I'm not really content," he said. "It's just that we have a lot of people that are only movable to certain clubs in certain situations. You've got a limited market."

Bonilla, earning $4.5 million in the final year of his contract, remains the most obvious candidate to be traded, but his game-tying homer Saturday provided vivid evidence of why he should remain an Oriole.

Maybe Gillick can acquire a veteran like Philadelphia's Jim Eisenreich inexpensively, but if the Orioles can't win with the players on their roster, they probably won't win at all.

Which brings us back to the No. 2 spot.

The Robbie wannabes -- Polonia, Jeffrey Hammonds, Mike Devereaux, Manny Alexander, Bill Ripken and Smith -- have combined to bat .233 in that position the last 38 games.

The Orioles' dynamic offense masked the problem during most of that period, but they scored in only nine of 57 innings on the homestand. How one-dimensional was their offense? Fifteen of their 20 runs came on homers.

They're like bullies -- they can beat you up, but if you stand up to them, they'll cower. But now, with the next week so critical, with the pitching coming together, they need to regain their offensive edge.

Johnson said he has "thought about" returning Alomar to the No. 2 spot, but he'd prefer to keep the second baseman in a position where he could drive in runs.

His other concern is that if Alomar bats second, the Orioles will be vulnerable to left-handed pitching at the top of their order -- Brady Anderson and Rafael Palmeiro are left-handed, and the switch-hitting Alomar is weaker from the right side.

Thus, a Polonia-Devereaux platoon makes sense -- Johnson can pinch-hit one for the other if the opposing manager starts going left-right. Ideally, the lineup is deeper, and more balanced.

But only if the No. 2 hitters produce.

Devereaux drove in 107 runs from that spot in 1992, but he's 3-for-25 in six starts. Polonia is a career .293 hitter, but 11 of his 22 hits have come in three games.

"It's hard to say what's going on," Polonia said. "Why can't I be consistent? I either go a week that I'm hot, or a week that I'm cold. It's always something."

To be sure, Polonia isn't the only Oriole struggling -- catchers Chris Hoiles and Gregg Zaun are batting a combined .235, and third baseman B. J. Surhoff is in a two-week slump.

Heck, even Alomar is in a 10-for-49 slide. Come to think of it, that's another reason to return him to the No. 2 spot, where he can move runners over until he regains his groove.

The Orioles are getting good pitching; they can't waste it. They're starting a critical road trip; they can't blow it.

Johnson has shown he isn't afraid to tinker.

Write it down, Davey.

Now batting second, Roberto Alomar.

Running dry

The Orioles have entered the ninth inning scoreless in four of their past six games:

....... Final ......... O's runs

Day ... score ......... before 9th

Tue. .. Tex. 7, O's 0 ... 0

Wed. .. Tex. 3, O's 2 ... 0

Thu. .. O's 3, Tex. 2 ... 3

Fri. .. O's 9, K.C. 3 ... 9

Sat. .. O's 5, K.C. 3 ... 0

Sun. .. K.C. 4, O's 0 ... 0

Pub Date: 6/24/96

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