Returning Walton out to show he's a cut above Three '97 surgeries didn't dash his desire to contribute

Sidelight

September 02, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

MIAMI -- There were times the Orioles may have forgotten about Jerome Walton, but Walton never forgot about them.

Four months, three surgeries and a seemingly endless string of setbacks jeopardized the outfielder's season ever since "Juice" disappeared with groin and hamstring problems on April 25.

When he attempted to return in Cleveland almost a month later, Walton reinjured himself running from first to third base before the game. The next time the Orioles saw him was in Atlanta in mid-June. Walton came back for some bats, predicting he'd be back in three weeks.

On the unofficial opening of the Stretch Drive, the Orioles activated Walton before last night's ugly 10-4 loss to the Florida Marlins. Able to thrive without him for most of the summer, they now need him to stabilize a bruised and battered clubhouse.

"I've been gone for four months," Walton recited. "Now it's my turn. I can step in and give these guys a day off."

Orioles manager Davey Johnson would like nothing better. His outfield now threatens a return to the gimpy status that nagged it in May. Brady Anderson asked to sit down last night. B. J. Surhoff was given the night off to rest a sore hamstring. Jeffrey Hammonds started last night, which means his sore Achilles' tendon will be screaming at him today.

"I've got to take some time off for those guys," said Johnson, preaching a consistent theme of long-range thinking. "I can't keep expecting them to go out there. These guys need a blow. Brady's had knee problems all year. He's got to get some time. He plays hard."

Walton, who batted .440 (11-for-25) before landing on the disabled list, has hardly been playing. He underwent one surgery to repair his torn left hamstring, another surgery to replace tissue from the inside of his thigh into his chronically sore groin, and another eight weeks ago to remove a blood clot.

All were performed by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala. Indeed, until recently the Orioles thought it more likely that Eric Davis would contribute after cancer surgery than Walton would after his ordeal.

"I feel like I've spent my whole summer in Alabama," Walton said.

Even now, Walton remains wary. He knows he is needed but is also aware his next injury this year will certainly be his last.

"It's definitely going to be in the back of my mind," Walton, 32, said after going 1-for-4 with a walk in last night's meltdown against the Marlins. "So many things have happened with my hamstring and the groin. But you go all out. You can't baby it. What's going to happen is going to happen."

Walton ran freely after Jim Eisenreich's eighth-inning double and gave chase to two other balls that rolled down the left-field line. On the bases, he took second on Hammonds' first-inning single, third on Rafael Palmeiro's double-play grounder and went no farther. He is coming off a 4-for-19 rehab assignment at Single-A Frederick in which he stole a base and hit a home run.

"I started to feel pretty good the last two or three games in Frederick," he said. "I felt good at the plate tonight. I was a little anxious; I was jumping a little bit. But I'll be fine. That comes in time."

If Walton holds together, he will have returned just in time.

Pub Date: 9/02/97

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