Too early to panic, Ripken and Alomar say 2nd-place team 'hasn't got up and running yet'

Orioles Notebook

June 28, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- With the Orioles stumbling behind the New York Yankees in the standings, Cal Ripken and Roberto Alomar addressed the team's performance and whether it needs more vocal leadership in the clubhouse.

Ripken and Alomar, both noted for leading by example, agreed yesterday that it is too early to panic about the Orioles' American League East deficit, which stands at 5 1/2 games after last night's 3-2 loss to the Yankees. However, neither is pleased with the team's pace, either.

"This team really hasn't got up and running yet," Ripken said. "We feel thankful to be where we are, considering how we've played. Hopefully you develop a relationship with teammates during the year. When people aren't living up to what their supposed to, a leader is somebody who pulls them aside. It's something [the media] will never know about."

Alomar said the way to keep a team together is to provide support, not criticism.

"When somebody is struggling, you don't want to point the finger at them," the second baseman said. "We're a family. We're trying to help each other privately. To win -- to go all the way -- we have to remain a family."

Ripken said one of the reasons for the Orioles' underachieving play is the unfamiliarity of the players, coaches and management, with manager Davey Johnson, general manager Pat Gillick and many of the players in their first year with the organization.

Alomar agreed. "We're still learning about Davey," he said. "He has complete control of doing whatever he wants on the field. I'm going to support him about any decision he makes."

Ripken did acknowledge his surprise in May when Johnson openly considered moving the shortstop to third base.

"I can't sit here and say that it wasn't distracting," Ripken said. "It makes you interfere with your regular routine. I'd rather not have had to think about it or go through it. I'm not happy that the whole thing happened. But it's over."

Johnson said he has no immediate plans to move Ripken. But if the Orioles fall out of contention, Johnson said he would like to play Manny Alexander at short.

"I'm not saying it's inevitable," Johnson said of moving Ripken. "But I want to be able to get some other guys playing, too. In a normal world when you have a [star shortstop like Barry] Larkin or someone, they would let you have 10, 20, 30 games at short. I can't get Manny a token start."

Minor called major talent

Orioles officials projected Ryan Minor, their 32nd-round pick in the June draft, to be selected 20th to 22nd overall in the NBA draft on Wednesday night.

But Minor fell to second round, picked 32nd overall by the Philadelphia 76ers, and that has the Orioles smiling.

The club is hoping Minor, a baseball and basketball star at the University of Oklahoma, plays baseball in 1997. He is projected as a first baseman and possibly a pitcher.

"Bottom line is, he's an incredible athlete," said Matt Slater, the Orioles' scouting administrator. "We're excited about the chance to have him. But who is to say if he won't have a fruitful NBA career and we'll never see him?"

Coppinger is workhorse

Rookie starter Rocky Coppinger has thrown a lot of pitches but hasn't pitched many innings.

Coppinger's longest start was his major-league debut three weeks ago, six innings against the Tigers in Detroit. Since then he has gone no more than five innings.

Coppinger gained a reputation in the minors as a workhorse and is looking to continue that.

"I've thrown a lot of pitches early in every game," he said. "It's different in the majors. Guys foul more balls off. They take a lot more pitches. My command is getting better. I've been making better pitches and throwing better off-speed stuff."

Back in Rochester . . .

Jeffrey Hammonds started in center field and hit leadoff for the first time with the Rochester Red Wings on Wednesday. Hammonds went 1-for-4 in the game and is 3-for-26 since being sent to Triple-A. A number of teams have expressed interest in Hammonds, including the Detroit Tigers. . . . The Red Wings placed pitcher Oscar Munoz on the disabled list with a sore elbow yesterday. . . . Outfielder Joe Hall was the only Red Wing selected to play in the Triple-A All-Star Game on July 10 in Salt Lake City.

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