In swing again, O's pitchers won't throw fear into foes

February 20, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Armando Benitez rolled up his sleeve and pointed to his right biceps.

"Power," he said. "Power."

Well, yes, Benitez is a power pitcher, everyone knows that.

But yesterday marked the start of a new era.

Benitez was talking about his hitting.

Welcome to pitchers' batting practice, something that hasn't been seen in American League training camps since 1972, the year before the designated hitter rule was adopted.

Alan Mills borrowed Chris Hoiles' batting gloves. Nerio Rodriguez adopted a Julio Franco practice stance. Benitez, Rocky Coppinger and Jimmy Key hit home runs.

Jesse Orosco pointed to a plane taking off from a nearby airport.

"They're going to have to stop all flights tomorrow," he said.

Seriously, the Orioles' major-league home run record might never be broken, now that interleague play is upon us and American League pitchers are again grabbing Louisville Sluggers.

The idea behind baseball's newest innovation is to create excitement, but how exciting is it going to be, watching Mike Mussina trying to hit Greg Maddux?

That's right, the DH will be used in the AL parks, and the pitchers will hit in the NL parks, just like in the World Series.

And the Orioles' two road opponents will be Atlanta and Florida, the teams with perhaps the best starting rotations in baseball.

At this point, the two leagues should just agree on uniform rules, but you might as well try to unite the Democrats and Republicans.

Granted, it's only six games for the Orioles.

But it's six games in which they will risk injury to their pitchers, many of whom haven't swung a bat or run the bases since high school.

And it's six games in which they will be at a competitive disadvantage, unless Rocky Coppinger turns into Rocky Colavito.

Uh, not likely.

"I haven't hit in 14 years, and I've got a wooden bat in my hand instead of aluminum," Key said. "It doesn't make for a very good matchup."

Actually, Key is one of the Orioles' better hitting pitchers -- he also was an outfielder and DH at Clemson, and had a career .300 batting average.

"Right field," he shouted to hitting coach Rick Down at one point yesterday.

"Right field!" Down replied, thrilled to hear a pitcher embrace the concept of situational hitting. "Runner on first! Hit it in the hole!"

Key didn't, but Scott Kamieniecki followed him into the cage and stroked a line drive on the first pitch.

"Kammy out of the chute!" Down cried, desperate for any sign of offensive life.

Next came the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Coppinger.

The Rock opened with a blooper that barely cleared the infield.

L "That's a knock," he said, casually adopting hitter's lingo.

Down, a dedicated coach and enthusiastic teacher, kept checking his stopwatch, apparently counting the minutes until the end.

The Orioles didn't waste a batting-practice pitcher on this exercise -- they had equipment manager Fred Tyler load balls into a pitching machine.

To hear the pitchers tell it, the machine had an even nastier changeup than Maddux.

"It's coming in floating," Mills complained.

"Wait, wait," someone advised.

"That's hard to do, when you haven't hit in 12 years," Mills replied.

Someone fouled a pitch onto an adjoining field, forcing bench coach John Stearns to duck. Orosco retrieved another ball Mills fouled behind the cage.

"Sir," he asked Mills, "can you sign this for me?

Half the pitchers "hit" while the others threw.

The other half will "hit" today.

Giovanni Carrara, a non-roster pitcher, had the worst swing. He held up his right index finger in jubilation the first time he made contact.

Still, for all the good-natured banter around the cage, manager Davey Johnson fears that a pitcher who overswings could pull an arm or rib cage muscle.

So, the main focus will be on bunting.

The Orioles pitchers took informal batting practice late last season in preparation for a possible World Series appearance, but Johnson said it would not become a part of their regular pre-game routine.

In fact, he said only the starters would take BP, and only then for one week before the Atlanta series June 13-15 and the Florida series Sept. 1-3.

This will come as devastating news to closer Randy Myers, assuming he arrives in camp before the millennium.

Myers, a career .186 hitter, keeps BP stats.

"He was just obsessed out there," recalled Shawn Boskie, Myers' former teammate with the Chicago Cubs. "If he was ever going to be early for anything, that's the one thing he'd be early for.

"He'd take a clipboard out there with him. He had all the guys' names. His personality just came to life. He took it seriously.

"There was no peace on the baseball field when the pitchers were hitting. He'd be yelling at the batting-practice pitcher, yelling at his teammates, you name it."

Myers is due by Wednesday. For all anyone knows, he's taking 500 swings a day at home, preparing for a showdown with Arthur Rhodes, the bullpen's other left-handed slugger.

"He's not a good hitter," Mills said of Rhodes. "But when he hits it, there are not too many people I've seen in this league with that kind of power."

Mills wasn't kidding -- he said Rhodes hit two balls off the transformer on the roof of Tiger Stadium last season, a difficult feat for any hitter, even in BP.

Rhodes is scheduled to hit today. "He's going to get a good night's sleep," Orosco said. "He probably can't wait."

Which leaves us with Down, the poor soul in charge of these would-be sluggers.

"We've got some work to do," he said.

Well, not everyone.

"Did you see?" Benitez asked. "Power."

Pub Date: 2/20/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.