All right: O's Alomar passes test He picks up two hits in first righty swings since May of 1997

'Going in right direction'

No pain in shoulder, switch-hitter says

March 09, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar removed a little more suspense from camp yesterday with four pain-free right-handed at-bats against the Boston Red Sox. If he was unsure before the most-watched experiment of spring, he sounded ecstatic afterward.

Alomar managed two singles in his first right-handed at-bats since May 31 and suggested he will be ready for the start of the season March 31.

Alomar eventually underwent arthroscopic surgery in November to repair a partial tear in his left labrum. Doctors inserted a screw to reattach the labrum to the shoulder. Alomar didn't pick up a bat until he arrived at camp last month, first hitting off a tee, then swinging at soft toss from hitting coach Rick Down. Last week, he took batting practice from the right side for the first time.

"I've never been injured before. I don't know how it works," the switch-hitter said. "When it's the first time, you don't know how it feels. You don't know what can happen out there. I thought I was ready to take a swing and I did. I think we're going in the right direction."

Alomar had predicted to manager Ray Miller that he would need at least 10 days before trying to bat right-handed. He beat the estimate by a day when he stepped in against Boston Red Sox left-hander Butch Henry in the first inning. On his first swing, a wristy flick with minimal body turn, Alomar fouled off the pitch. He then tried a drag bunt that skidded foul along the third-base line. After working the count to 1-2, he pushed a curve ball through the middle.

"On the first swing I felt no pain. That's a big plus for me. The shoulder felt good. I need to keep working on it and keep working on my strength. But so far I have no pain at all," Alomar said.

His second at-bat against Henry resulted in a 4-6-3 double play to end the third inning. In his third plate appearance, against Ron Mahay, Alomar worked the count to 2-2 before again grounding to second base.

Alomar's final at-bat came against Curtis Shaw in the seventh inning, when he flared the second pitch he saw, a fastball, for a single to right field.

"Robbie's Robbie," said Miller, who approached Alomar on Saturday about turning around. "That's the first time [he's hit] right-handed off a pitcher in how many months? Second swing, a bullet. I think it's a big day for him, just mentally knowing he can do it. For somebody who's never had surgery before, I'm sure there's a little bit of fear."

The Orioles and their second baseman had worried about how the shoulder would react to a miss. Alomar swung through one pitch but did not flinch.

"It doesn't matter if you swing and miss or swing and hit the ball. I think it's the same," he concluded after contributing two RBIs and two of the Orioles' nine hits in a 12-9 loss. "On the first hit I got, I hit it and let it go. I didn't feel anything. I think it's just a little weak in the back of the shoulder, but everything is going to be all right."

To protect the area, Alomar will keep both hands on the bat during his right-handed follow-through. Left-handed, he fully extends with one hand on the bat.

Miller says he plans to use Alomar freely against left-handed pitching, something the Orioles saw plenty of last season. Alomar batted .248 with only eight RBIs and no home runs in 113 at-bats against left-handers. He punished right-handed pitching for a .365 average, 14 home runs and 52 RBIs. However, Alomar batted .500 with 17 RBIs in 70 September at-bats last season, leading to questions about whether he might abandon hitting right-handed. He began to answer yesterday.

Pub Date: 3/09/98

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