Indians outfielder Burnitz was key to Murray deal Lost among Cleveland stars, he's still coveted by O's

Orioles Notebook

July 04, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- Eddie Murray is a future Hall of Famer 10 homers away from 500 for his career, a proven clutch hitter. But, according to league sources, he wasn't necessarily the key player in the five-player deal the Orioles recently rejected.

The Cleveland Indians were prepared to swap Murray, outfielder Jeromy Burnitz and pitcher Albie Lopez for slugger Bobby Bonilla and outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds, and the Orioles mulled this over before saying no. But they would've loved to have had Burnitz, a player the Orioles have followed closely this year -- and hope to acquire at some point.

Burnitz, 27, is a left-handed-hitting outfielder lost among the stars in Cleveland -- Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and Manny

Ramirez. Last year, Burnitz hit .284 at Triple-A Buffalo, with 19 homers, 85 RBIs and 13 stolen bases.

Those who've seen Burnitz say he's an above-average outfielder with a good throwing arm, a solid player. For now, he's stuck in Cleveland, serving only part-time duty. Had the deal gone through, he would've helped shore up the Orioles' outfield problems.

If Burnitz is the most attractive outfield prospect for the Orioles, Philadelphia's Benito Santiago appears to be the best fit at catcher. The Orioles and Phillies have talked several times, with Philadelphia asking for Hammonds, but one NL source indicated that no deal will be made before the All-Star break.

Santiago, 31, nearly signed with the Orioles during the off-season, but ultimately decided to go elsewhere when the Orioles couldn't guarantee him regular playing time. They can now, with regular catcher Chris Hoiles hitting .219.

Johnson seeks consistency

The Orioles are home for much of July, beginning with the four-game series against Boston that starts today. Manager Davey Johnson places no special significance on this month, or this series.

"We just need to make a move now," he said, "whether we're at home or on the road. We just need to be more consistent.

L "I think we have been, and I think we will be in the future.

"I like this team. It's got a lot of character and a lot of talented players. To me, there are a lot of talented teams in the AL, and we're one of them."

Mercker encouraging

Johnson said he was encouraged by what he saw of Kent Mercker in a brief bullpen workout Tuesday. Mercker has not pitched since allowing four homers in three innings against Texas June 18.

"He's throwing better," said Johnson. "He's got more zip [on his fastball] and he looks freer [in his motion], from what I saw. I wouldn't hesitate to use him."

Bonilla at DH . . . for night

Bonilla was the designated hitter last night, with Luis Polonia starting in left field and Mike Devereaux in right.

"I don't mind being the DH once or twice a week," Bonilla said. "I just didn't like it the other way, being the DH and playing [in the field] once a week. . . . I tell you what, I've got a lot of respect now for those guys who are DHs, like [Harold] Baines and [Paul] Molitor. It's a skill position."

Johnson started Polonia in left in an effort to shake the veteran out of his slump and was rewarded with hits in his first two at-bats. Polonia went 2-for-4 last night, but is hitting .222. "The guy sprays the ball," Johnson said. "For that type of veteran hitter to struggle . . . I don't know."

Around the horn

The Orioles completed the signing of Australian pitcher John Stephens yesterday, agreeing to a bonus of $500,000 for the 16-year-old. . . . Reliever Roger McDowell has allowed eight hits in his last 3 2/3 innings, a result, he thinks, of a reduced workload. McDowell is a sinkerballer and when he doesn't get regular appearances, he is stronger and throws harder and his sinker flattens out. . . . The Orioles will work out Wednesday, the day after the All-Star Game, at Camden Yards. . . . Should Hammonds remain in Triple-A the rest of the season, he may lose so much major-league service time that he wouldn't be eligible for arbitration after this season. Orioles officials say adamantly that had nothing to do with his demotion. . . . Roberto Alomar was 4-for-14 (.286) in his return to Toronto.

Pub Date: 7/04/96

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