Alomar pointed in right direction Finger injury is lesson in patience

August 15, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

Forget all that injured finger stuff -- Roberto Alomar is fine.

He's well enough to have hit two homers yesterday, giving him a career-high 19 this season. His finger hasn't prevented him from hitting .356 (37-for-104) in 27 games since the All-Star break. It hasn't stopped him from scoring 30 runs in his past 19 games or driving in 18 runs in his past 16 games.

Lately, that bruised left ring finger isn't stopping Alomar from doing anything.

"Nothing surprises me that Robbie does," manager Davey Johnson said. "It seems to me at any time he can do anything he wants to. He's like [Cincinnati Reds shortstop] Barry Larkin. If you need a stolen base, he'll get it. If you need a home run, he'll hit it. If you need a walk, he'll get it. He does it all."

But if not for Johnson's guidance, Alomar might not be doing anything right now.

Alomar badly sprained his finger diving head-first into first base just before the All-Star break. He sat out a game against Boston but played in the All-Star Game so he could suit up with his double play partner, Cal Ripken. Then a Darryl Strawberry grounder aggravated the injury during a series with the New York Yankees at the start of the second half of the season.

Alomar had to make a decision. He could heed Johnson's advice and sit out a few games, or he could try to play through the pain that was intensifying with each at- bat.

He chose to take a break . . . wisely.

"I talked to Davey and the trainers and we decided not to play for a little while instead of going out there and trying to do a little bit too much," Alomar said. "I wasn't only hurting myself, I was hurting the team. I wasn't playing the way I was capable of playing and I decided to just sit down and relax for three or four days.

"I think it's paying off right now. Sometimes you can not be a hero, you have to be a ballplayer. I was hurt and the best thing for me was to rest it."

Now, Alomar, who said he will get the finger re-examined at the end of the season, is helping to lead the Orioles' charge for a playoff spot. His 3-for-5 performance, which included two home runs, three runs batted in and three runs scored, put his season average at .350. That's 52 points above his major-league average. Alomar's career high for RBIs is 93. He already has 80 RBIs this year.

The second baseman said there's no secret to his power surge. He's swinging a heavier bat, which has helped, but Alomar said the improvement is as much due to maturity, patience and a better knowledge of pitchers.

All of those factors have made him more selective at the plate.

"He'll hit a ball where it's pitched," batting coach Rick Down said. "If the ball is outside, he'll drive it to the off side. If it's inside, he'll get the head of the bat on it. He works a pitcher like a pitcher tries to work a hitter. He's got a plan when he goes up there."

The plan worked on Alomar's fifth at-bat when he hit his second homer of the game. Alomar frequently enters the clubhouse during games to watch different camera angles of pitchers and carefully remembers what pitchers throw him. He recalled Brewers reliever Ron Villone struck him out with a changeup in Milwaukee last week and he was looking for another one in the eighth inning yesterday.

Alomar looked at two straight balls, worked a 2-1 count, then waited for the changeup. When it came, he blasted the ball to the left-field stands to bolster the Orioles' lead to 8-5.

"That's how you learn," Alomar said. "I'm just watching all their movements out there. I'm always checking the pitchers and the video. That's paying off right now. Right now, I'm having fun and we're winning and I just want to play baseball. I'm not even thinking about my finger, which is good."

Pub Date: 8/15/96

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