Guillen's short stops yield varying results Utility player at ease, but not at second base

March 20, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

JUPITER, Fla. -- Ask Orioles manager Ray Miller whether Ozzie Guillen has looked comfortable bouncing from position to position in his new role of utility player, and you'll get varying answers.

"At second base, no," Miller says. "Everywhere else, yes."

Everywhere else includes shortstop, his position for 13 seasons with the Chicago White Sox before signing with the Orioles as a free agent. And first base, where he plays each winter. And in left field, where he made a sliding catch on the first ball hit to him this spring.

But second base?

"Not around the bag," Miller said. "For a lifetime shortstop, it's pretty hard to have your back turned. It's a different ballgame."

Has anything been the same for Guillen this spring? He has changed teams, in the process giving up any hope of starting unless an injury occurs. He's no longer a lock to be on a major-league roster, though Miller is still leaning toward keeping an extra infielder rather than a 12th pitcher. And he's no longer playing exclusively at a position where he once won a Gold Glove and made the most difficult plays seem routine.

He has had some trouble at second reading the ball as it comes off the bat, but the biggest chore has been turning the double play. In Tuesday's 10-6 win over the Florida Marlins, Guillen dropped a throw from shortstop Mike Bordick as he hurried to make the relay.

"You're going to have to make adjustments no matter what because everything is different there," he said. "The biggest difference is turning the double play at second. It's a little bit tougher. You see the field in a different way. But it's still way easier to play second base than shortstop. Way easier.

"I don't feel uncomfortable [at second]. You've just got to make adjustments."

And you've got to ignore the possibility of being flattened by a hard-charging base runner that you don't even see coming.

"At short, you're always taking the ball on the run," Miller said. "You have the freedom to move a little bit. At second, you've got to get there and wait for the ball. It's a little hairy when you haven't done it before. He dropped the ball the other day trying to be a little too quick. That's because you don't know where the runner is."

Guillen is adapting in other ways this spring. Notorious for being a free swinger, the veteran has been coaxed by Miller to become more selective. It has been a slow process -- Guillen's at-bats in the early stages of the exhibition season were over in the blink of an eye -- but there has been improvement. He's working a little deeper into the count and waiting for the results to show in his average.

A groundout in his only at-bat yesterday, when the Orioles defeated the Montreal Expos, 5-3, left Guillen 5-for-31 (.161) heading into today's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Guillen, a career .265 hitter, will start at shortstop.

"I just worry about having good at-bats," he said. "I think the last seven at-bats I had, I hit the ball hard. That's all that counts for me. Spring training numbers don't count. Having good at-bats and going to the plate the way I want to go to the plate, and approaching things the way I'm supposed to, that's all you can ask. I want my hitting coach and manager seeing me having good at-bats."

Until recently, Miller wasn't happy with what he saw -- "the typical Ozzie thing, putting the first pitch in play," he said.

It too closely resembled the information he kept on a card when JTC Guillen played for Chicago, which read, "On or out in three pitches."

"If you think about that, just don't throw the three pitches over the plate and you're going to get him out," Miller said. "We've talked to him about that, that you're on a different club. If you do pinch hit or start a game on this club, you've got a leadoff hitter [Brady Anderson] behind you who's hit 50 home runs in the big leagues."

It's just more for Guillen to digest in a season of change.

O's today

Opponent: Los Angeles Dodgers

Site: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Time: 1: 05 p.m.


Pub Date: 3/20/98

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