Hammonds glad to be in center of things Saved by strong spring, oft-injured outfielder just wants to keep contributing

Orioles sidelight

April 04, 1997|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

It would seem a guy who had experienced three straight Opening Days wouldn't be asked so much about his fourth. But for the Orioles' Jeffrey Hammonds, the interest has been pretty intense.

The same player who supposedly had no future with the club in spring training was starting in center field on Wednesday. The same player who was rumored to be headed to the minor leagues or packaged in a trade was reaching base three times and making a sliding catch on the first ball hit to him, from the game's first batter.

"I played well in spring training and I was rewarded for it," said Hammonds, who batted .337 with seven home runs, 21 RBIs and seven stolen bases. "But that's not what I worked for. That's not my whole season."

The second game of Hammond's season found him back in center field last night while Brady Anderson is restricted to being the designated hitter because of a cracked rib.

Hammonds has covered a lot of ground in three seasons. He opened in right field in 1995, and in left last year.

"If you can play the outfield down in Florida, with the sun and wind you just go out there and play the game," he said. "I had a few jitters [Wednesday], but that's normal."

They intensified with the pre-game introductions, when each Oriole emerged from the bullpen and trotted down a long red carpet to a rousing ovation. But Hammonds loosened up in a hurry. He had little choice.

Leadoff hitter Jose Offerman hit a sinking liner up the middle that Hammonds secured with a sliding catch. The ovation grew louder.

His first at-bat didn't go as well. Royals starter Kevin Appier struck him out with a runner on third and one out. But he singled and walked twice after that in the Orioles' 4-2 victory.

"That's playing the game," he said. "Whatever was being said [in spring training] has nothing to do with between the lines."

Hitting coach Rick Down likes what Hammonds is doing in the batter's box.

"He's staying off the marginal breaking ball, he's getting fastballs and he's hitting them," Down said. "Last season, he'd get himself in trouble and end up having to hit the pitcher's pitch instead of his pitch. That's the big difference. Instead of hitting 1-0, you're hitting 0-1 because you swung at a ball that was off the plate. That happened to him the first at-bat. Then he settled down and made them throw his pitch.

"That's the big difference with Jeffrey Hammonds. He's getting his pitch."

He's also getting another chance. The fourth player taken in the 1992 draft, Hammonds is healthy after seeing his career stalled by knee and neck injuries. He spent some time at Triple-A Rochester and on the disabled list last year, but has every intention of sticking around this time.

"I feel good," he said, nodding.

So far, he's looked it.

Pub Date: 4/04/97

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