Johnson keeps his starters in reserve Anderson and Palmeiro among those taking break

Sidelight

September 19, 1997|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

~TC As he had promised to do after Wednesday's loss, manager Davey Johnson sorted through his bench and pieced together a predominantly right-handed hitting lineup last night against Milwaukee left-hander Scott Karl.

Aaron Ledesma made his third start at first base. Jeffrey Hammonds was in center field for the fourth time in eight games. Jerome Walton took over in left field, and Eric Davis covered the ground in right.

That gave Johnson an army of reserves, including Brady Anderson, Rafael Palmeiro, B. J. Surhoff and Harold Baines, that would have been the envy of any manager.

"We haven't had any days off. It's been grueling and I wanted to rest guys," Johnson said.

He also wanted to get the offense going again as the postseason nears. The Orioles came into last night averaging 4 1/2 runs a game this month, a half-run below their season's average. Leads have been harder to come by. So have wins.

"We're in a bit of a funk right now," said hitting coach Rick Down. "We've already made the playoffs. You don't want to say you're letting down because you suspect that you can turn it on and off. It's not a light switch. You want to continue and peak and get to a point where we want to be, get ready for the playoffs. I'm not worried about how we're playing now because I'd rather have it now than two days before the playoffs. But at the same time, we've got to kick it in the tail, find a way to do it.

"We just have to do a better job of swinging at better pitches," he added. "That's the bottom line of any good-hitting ballclub is the ability to get a good pitch to hit, especially with less than two strikes. Pitch selection can be a lot of different things. Guys trying too hard, just being too aggressive. You just have to play your game."

Down hasn't lost faith in himself or the approach he's taken with the club's hitters.

"I don't take it personally," he said. "I do what I think I can do and work as hard as I can to do the things that I have control of. You try to do the best you can to prepare the guys, give them a plan and set up an individual program. It's about preparation, and I've done that as well as I've ever done in the past. In terms of pure numbers -- the amount of runs scored (761), the team average (.268) -- it hasn't been one of my best seasons. But the effort, and the effort I've received from the players, as been as good as any. At the end of the day, I look in the mirror, and for the most part I'm satisfied."

Much was made before the season of how the Orioles were moving away from being a collection of bashers. Speed and situational hitting, along with the usual doses of pitching and defense, were going to carry the team beyond the American League Championship Series.

But that was before injuries began reshaping the lineup.

"We were going to have the ability to manufacture runs, but we can't do that now," Down said. "We don't have the speed because [Jerome] Walton broke down, Eric Davis broke down, Robbie [Alomar] broke down. There's three legitimate base stealers right there. If we're not going to hit the home run now, we're going to have to get five or six base hits to get two or three runs. But those are things you deal with. There's no excuses. To our credit, we've found ways to score runs."

And enough ways to win 93 games and bear down on the organization's first division title since 1983.

"That's a testimony to the character of the ballclub," Down said. "Do we have a team like Seattle offensively right now? No. Maybe not even like New York. But the bottom line is, we've still figured out more ways to win games than anybody else in the American League. We've got to be proud of that. It hasn't been easy, but maybe it's going to prove our toughness and make us a better playoff team. Maybe it's a blessing in disguise."

Pub Date: 9/19/97

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