Davis plays a powerful game of catch-up Other off-season focus takes nothing from his bat

Orioles notebook

March 10, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Orioles right fielder Eric Davis didn't do much over the winter to prepare for the coming season; his time was devoted to completing his chemotherapy treatments. Ridding his body of cancer has been more important than chasing curveballs.

"I've worked hard since I've been down here," he said.

And the results keep pouring in. Yesterday, Davis hit his third and fourth home runs, driving in four runs in the Orioles' 9-3 win over the Minnesota Twins. He's batting .474 (9-for-19) with 12 RBIs in seven games.

"Maybe it was better that I didn't do a whole lot over the winter," he said.

Asked if he was ready for the season, Davis, 35, said: "It's hard to say when you're ready. You'd like to think so, but you don't know. It's 80 degrees here. It might be 20 degrees in Baltimore. I ain't ready for that."

It's hard to imagine anything bothering Davis these days. He scorched Minnesota's 20-game winner Brad Radke, then signed autographs for fans after the fourth inning.

In judging how close he was to being able to go nine innings and play the next day, Davis rated his stamina at 85 percent. He said it was closer to 60 percent last year after returning from colon cancer surgery.

"In the postseason, you just find extra strength -- your toenails, eyebrows, you find strength anywhere you can get it," he said.

Davis said he expects to get enough at-bats this year, even with the addition of Joe Carter and the return of Jeffrey Hammonds. Manager Ray Miller has said he'd like to keep Davis on pace for 100 games, with the freedom to accelerate as the season winds down.

Drabek sharper

The best way for Doug Drabek to get his sinker working is to stop trying. Keeping that in mind, he tossed four shutout innings yesterday, allowing four hits, striking out two and not walking a batter.

All four hits were singles, including one that didn't leave the infield. He threw 46 pitches, then reached his limit by throwing another 14 in the bullpen.

Drabek, being counted on to give the club more innings than its fifth starters could muster last year, had some trouble keeping the ball down in his first outing against St. Louis, allowing seven hits and four runs in three innings. Against the Twins, he had his best sinker in a long time.

"Today, it felt a lot better as far as arm angle and arm speed," he said. "I got in such a rut trying to make the pitch sink instead of just throwing it. Today, I just concentrated on getting my arm back on top and setting my target lower instead of trying to throw it to the mitt. I tried to throw it to the ground. I got some to go down and some to move. I'll put that in my memory bank."

Watching Drabek brought back fond memories for Miller, the pitching coach in Pittsburgh when the pitcher won 22 games in 1990.

"He was in that slot that I saw him pitch in for me," Miller said. "If he can pitch the way he pitched for me, with our infield, he's going to be a valuable tool on this ballclub."

Bull's eye on Hoiles?

Barring another bizarre accident, catcher Chris Hoiles said he will try to play today against the Cardinals in Fort Lauderdale.

"I can't leave Moose hanging," he said of Mike Mussina, today's scheduled pitcher.

Hoiles could have been excused for begging out of the game. He's still sore after being struck in the left rib cage by the sharp end of a broken bat while standing in the on-deck circle Sunday.

X-rays didn't show a fracture, but Hoiles suffered a deep bruise and cuts just below his chest. It's further proof that, though he sports a new tattoo on his left shoulder, he carries the same luck.

Last season was a minefield for Hoiles. He was nicked by foul tips and hit by pitches so many times it became a running joke. He missed a month after tearing a ligament in his right knee trying to block home plate. He even was struck on the back of the head with a bat during the Division Series.

"I'm a magnet," he said. "I don't know why it's got to be me, but that's why you learn to play when you're not 100 percent."

As Hoiles spoke, Drabek walked past and asked, "What's up, Target?"

"Well," Hoiles said, "there's another nickname."

Road team

Fasten your seat belts. The Orioles will log about 1,050 miles this week, and Miller said his rental car will reach the 2,000-mile mark by the middle of the exhibition schedule.

As much as Miller wants to win and not deprive fans in other ballparks of seeing his marquee players, he's not going to make his veterans feel as though they're part of some MTV road show.

"We're just trying to get through Friday without any major injuries or collisions or accidents," he said. "This is a critical week for injuries. Everybody's dragging a little bit more. I would be worried about it even if we were a young club. We're a veteran club. I'll probably upset some fans by holding some people back."

Cal Ripken was supposed to make the trip yesterday, but Miller decided to give him the day off. As the team left the complex, Ripken was tossing baseballs to his son in the batting cage.

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