Boy's pep talk spurred Hammonds 11-year-old told Oriole his game would 'click'

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

August 01, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jeffrey Hammonds was hitting under .200 for Triple-A Rochester earlier this month when an 11-year-old boy got his attention.

"Hey, Jeffrey, you've been hurt a lot, haven't you?" asked the boy, whom Hammonds recognized from an earlier stint in Rochester.

Hammonds answered that he had been. "Don't worry about it," the boy said. "Your game's going to click."

Hammonds did start hitting, and, promoted by the Orioles yesterday, he recalled this as a turning point for him, the pep talk from the young boy. "You never know what it's going to take," he said.

To make room for Hammonds, the Orioles demoted struggling rookie pitcher Jimmy Haynes to Rochester, where he will be placed in the Red Wings' starting rotation.

Hammonds, who hit .272 overall for Rochester and .326 over his past 11 games, will be the Orioles' everyday left fielder, according to manager Davey Johnson. "He went down there and really worked his tail off. He's been hitting .300 for the last three weeks or so. I've given opportunities to [Mike] Devereaux and [Luis] Polonia to do things, and they just haven't got it going. Hopefully, [Hammonds] will come up and establish himself.

"I told him over the winter that nobody wants for him [to succeed] more than I do. He's young, he's got the tools, he can run. But it's time to establish himself."

Hammonds, demoted June 17, went hitless in his first 16 at-bats with the Red Wings.

"I just want to go out and have fun and play hard and help the team win," he said. "It's that simple. I'm going to try to keep it that easy."

While playing for Rochester, Hammonds repeatedly heard his name mentioned in possible trade talks. He was part of a five-player deal with Cleveland that was vetoed by Orioles owner Peter Angelos. The Philadelphia Phillies asked for him, as did the Kansas City Royals. The rumors unsettled Hammonds, but then he thought of Bobby Bonilla, who started poorly at designated hitter and "has come back to have a good year," Hammonds said.

Hammonds wants to do the same. "I've got two more months to get out and do what I wanted to do before I was sent down," Hammonds said.

There's about a month left in Rochester's season for Haynes to get a regular turn in a rotation and try to find the stuff that made him seem so promising last September.

"They want me to go down and get some starts in," Haynes said, after meeting with Johnson and pitching coach Pat Dobson. "I'd rather be here, but if it'll help me to get back to where I was, and get me a groove, I think it'll be pretty good."

Based on his strong performance last September, Haynes went to spring training penciled in as the No. 5 starter. He pitched poorly in spring training and nearly lost his spot in the rotation then, and, after the season started, he was even worse. After pitching well briefly in May, Haynes regressed to the point that he lost his spot in the rotation in June.

After some good outings out of the bullpen -- most of them with the Orioles behind by three or more runs -- Haynes got another shot at starting July 22 and the Twins bombed him for seven runs in 7 1/3 innings. He was 1-6 with a 9.84 ERA as a starter, and 2-0 with a 4.10 ERA out of the bullpen.

Haynes was asked if he was surprised at being sent down. "I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner," he said. "It's been in the back of my mind. You're not going to stay here if you're not pitching well."

There are more roster moves to come, with relievers Arthur Rhodes and Roger McDowell close to being activated off the disabled list. When Rhodes and McDowell come back, the most likely to go down are Garrett Stephenson and Keith Shepherd.

Perlozzo knows comebacks

Don't tell third base coach Sam Perlozzo the Orioles are out of the postseason hunt. Coaching for Seattle last year, he saw the Mariners come back and win the AL West after being 13 games behind the California Angels in early August. "I think we had kind of given up on winning the division," Perlozzo said, "and we were concentrating on the wild card.

"Then we played the best eight weeks of baseball I've ever been associated with. We were in a lot of games that were like magic."

By comparison, the Orioles are 4 1/2 games out in the wild-card chase, 11 games behind the Yankees in the AL East. "To me, 4 1/2 games out with two months to play, it's like, 'That's all?' That's easy, compared to last year. Plus, we play all the teams in front of us before the season's over. It's something that can be done, especially with the team we have."

Miscellaneous

Pitcher Tom Edens, 35, was released from his Triple-A contract yesterday, after going 4-6 with a 5.19 ERA for Rochester. . . . Haynes will make his first start for Rochester on Saturday in Pawtucket.

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