For Surhoff, spring is just a step Production in Florida low on priority list

March 18, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Few, if any, within the Orioles' clubhouse carry a more paradoxical philosophy about playing time than B.J. Surhoff. A subscriber to the Cal Ripken school of persistence, Surhoff is not convinced of the connection between playing in March and playing well in May or September.

This year, the Orioles' left fielder represents a walking, talking test case.

"To tell you the truth, I don't want to play every day in the spring. It may sound bad, but you have to do the things you have to do to get ready," Surhoff said following yesterday's 10-6 win over the Florida Marlins.

"You're trying to get some at-bats and get back into it. You're trying to get ready to play March 31, not necessarily today or last week. I just try to use the spring to do some things. Hopefully, you get into some situations that get you back into the flow. You can't simulate anything until you get into the game."

Surhoff has played in only four games since suffering a fracture of his right ring finger in the Orioles' exhibition opener Feb. 28. He returned last Saturday after a two-week hiatus. During that time, he devoted himself to conditioning and enters the final two weeks of camp needing only to sharpen his batting eye and defensive play.

"I don't believe it has a whole lot of bearing on a whole lot of things," Surhoff, 33, said of an unnecessarily heavy spring workload. "It's extremely hard to make a case to link the amount you play in the spring with how well you play in the season.

"The best spring-training players in the world when the bell rings, who knows? There are certain guys getting their at-bats every single day in the spring. Then the season comes around, they're not getting them. Then it's much harder."

Surhoff will get his at-bats. He received 528 last year and 537 in 1996, driving in 88 and 82 runs while hitting 18 and 21 home runs. His consistency has made him as underrated as he is vital to a well-balanced offense.

"You don't have to worry about B.J.," said manager Ray Miller. "He's going to be ready no matter what. In his case, the timing of [the fractured finger] probably worked out all right. He's one guy who doesn't demand a lot of at-bats."

Surhoff enjoyed an All-Star quality first half last season -- .298 batting average, 11 home runs and 54 RBIs -- before tailing to .270 with seven home runs and 34 RBIs in the second half.

He endured a quadriceps pull and painful knees, but dismisses them as reasons for not sustaining his early pace.

Instead, he has only intensified an already demanding workout routine in hopes of maintaining himself through his 12th major-league season.

"Things went well last year. I want to build on a good thing. I would have liked to have had a stronger half," Surhoff said of a season that ended with a .284 season, which never fell below .281 after April 29.

Following this spring's fracture, team trainers warned Surhoff to refrain from swinging a bat for 10 days. Frustrated and often bored, Surhoff immersed himself in weight training and balance exercises.

There were no days off. He emerged trimmer and more defined. Challenged by center fielder Brady Anderson, Surhoff became adept at standing without support atop a huge purple ball. He eventually wandered into the batting cage alone, retracing his swing.

"He probably wore out every machine in the weight room," quipped Miller.

To Surhoff, there is no such thing as too much preventive medicine.

"Down here, your habits actually get worse and your schedule gets thrown off. Our season is not conducive to being in great cardiovascular shape, especially if you're an everyday player," he said.

As for making up for lost time, Surhoff insists there has been no problem. In his first at-bat after his layoff, he scolded himself for being jammed, then answered with a flared single.

"I haven't felt overmatched one time," he said. "There's just a way somehow when you get into the box that the level you need to be at comes back. It's harder to maintain that for an entire season."

Entering the final year of a three-year contract, Surhoff, one of bTC the Orioles' 13 pending free agents, could receive more selective playing time this season while receiving a similar number of at-bats.

The contradiction is possible as Miller may try to rest Surhoff against certain left-handed pitchers.

Though Surhoff batted .288 against left-handers last season, the availability of Jeffrey Hammonds and Joe Carter allows the manager more flexibility with his lineup card.

"I'm here to get ready. Right now, it's about repetitions, repetitions, repetitions," Surhoff said. "I'll be ready."

Pub Date: 3/18/98

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