Johnson gets in swing of things in AL He's altered approach in run-happy league

Sidelight

September 03, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- When Orioles manager Davey Johnson said in spring training it would take him a few months to learn about the American League, it sounded like a gesture of common courtesy, a show of respect for a new league.

But he has learned a lot about the AL, and is adjusting accordingly, placing a greater premium on offense, sluggers, and less importance on defense.

For the past month, Johnson encouraged general manager Pat Gillick to get a couple of strong right-handed hitters, and was thrilled when the Orioles traded for Todd Zeile and Pete Incaviglia.

By inserting Zeile at third and Incaviglia in left, or moving B. J. Surhoff from third to left, the Orioles weakened themselves defensively, something Johnson probably wouldn't have wanted in spring training.

His perspective has changed. The demands of the AL are different than the National League, where he managed for 10 years.

"It's a lot more offensive," said Johnson, before his club hit five homers in last night's rout of the Angels. "All the clubs are capable of scoring lots of runs. . . . It's just so much more explosive. Who would've thought all the teams would average five runs per game? We've scored over 800 runs, and we're not even the league leader."

Johnson manages differently than he did early in the year. He talked all spring about how the Orioles would be aggressive on the bases, even if they didn't have a whole lot of base stealers.

But Tony Tarasco and Jeffrey Hammonds got hurt, Brady Anderson has been bothered by leg injuries, and Johnson has been more inclined to let his lineup -- which includes nine players with 20 or more homers -- simply hack away.

Eddie Murray's steal in the second inning last night was the first by the Orioles in nine games, and was only their second in the last 12. Only two teams in the AL have stolen fewer bases than the Orioles' 69, and the Orioles have a poor percentage when they do run (69 steals in 106 attempts, or 65 percent). Early in the year, the Orioles usually ran on a three-and-one count. They rarely do now.

In Incaviglia's first game last Friday, the burly basher hit a grand slam to give the Orioles a 5-1 lead in the sixth inning. Early in the year, Johnson acknowledged, he would've immediately replaced RTC Incaviglia with Mike Devereaux, a far superior defensive outfielder; it's a standard practice in the NL, where a four-run lead is rarely overcome.

But Johnson left Incaviglia in the game to bat again, and didn't take him out until the bottom of the eighth.

A four-run lead in the AL isn't really that much, with Seattle hitting, in the Kingdome. Johnson figured he might want Incaviglia to hit against Norm Charlton, the Mariners' left-handed closer.

"I've learned a lot," he said.

Bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks said: "The type of ball you play here is different than in the NL. They play baseball over there the way baseball was invented to be played. A chess game.

Pub Date: 9/03/96

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