With little bite in bats, Blue Jays dig deep hole

ON BASEBALL

May 03, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The Toronto Blue Jays are sinking fast in the American League East, but general manager Gord Ash isn't ready to give up on the club's seemingly benign offensive lineup. He said recently that he'll wait until at least mid-May to evaluate the situation.

"There's no magic to, say, May 15," Ash said. "It just seems logical. It comes to 25 percent of the season. Your regulars should have 160-180 at-bats and I think that's a pretty good measuring stick."

The way things are going, however, the Jays could be well out of contention by that time. The Yankees are off to a terrific start and the Red Sox are staking out a place at the top of the standings. Even the struggling Orioles are comfortably ahead of them in the standings.

"If you start beating yourself up [in April] about being 'X' games behind this team and 'X' games behind that, you're in trouble," Ash said.

He's right about that, but the Jays are in trouble and it already may be too late to do much about it. The offense, as expected, has been extremely unproductive, ranking last in the American League in combined batting average and ahead of only the beleaguered Detroit Tigers in runs scored.

No one should be surprised. The Blue Jays were at the bottom of the heap in both departments last year, and they opened the 1998 season with hard-hitting Carlos Delgado on the disabled list and RBI machine Joe Carter in Baltimore.

Hitting coach Gary Matthews, whose job security may hang in the balance, is at a loss for answers.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed in the way we've [not] been able to execute and get guys in from third base," Matthews said. "I wasn't, by any means, a superstar when I played, but the one thing I was able to do at clutch time was to, more often than not, get the guy in from third base. It's easier said than done."

The problem is systemic. The young players -- including Jose Cruz and Shawn Green -- are struggling and there really aren't any veterans swinging the bat well enough to show them the way. Newcomer Jose Canseco has hit some home runs, but is not hitting for average, and veterans Darren Fletcher, Juan Samuel and Mike Stanley all are hitting below .200.

"The one thing you can't give the guys as a hitting instructor is courage and heart," Matthews said. "You can give them all the training but, ultimately, it's up to them to perform. Obviously, all the guys who are hitting so low are better hitters than they're showing. They can't be this bad. They just can't."

Guillen's exit

No one in the Orioles' front office enjoyed giving utility man Ozzie Guillen his unconditional release Friday, but it was the right move for the overall good of the team. The club wasn't putting the veteran infielder to any significant use, and there are other areas that need to be addressed.

It might even turn out to be the best thing for Guillen, who proved to be of marginal value as a once-a-week player, but might still be able to hook on somewhere as a fifth infielder and get more regular playing time. The Orioles already had No. 1 reserve Jeff Reboulet and a group of starting infielders that seldom take a day off.

Can the Boss resist?

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner has been adamant about protecting Cuban pitcher Orlando Hernandez from the New York hype that helped turn Hideki Irabu's first season in the United States into a disaster, but how long will he be able to keep the veteran pitcher down on the farm if Hernandez continues to dominate Triple-A hitting?

No. 5 starter Ramiro Mendoza hasn't exactly torn up the Bronx. He's 0-1 with a 5.76 ERA, so he is a candidate for more minor-league seasoning. Hernandez struck out 10 and gave up just two hits in his last minor-league start, perhaps justifying a sooner-than-expected chance to realize his dream of pitching in the major leagues.

GM Brian Cashman insists that the Yankees are content to take it very slow with Hernandez, but he did sign a $6.6 million contract and he isn't exactly a spring chicken.

Operation Drag

The 10 youngest members of the Arizona Diamondbacks roster were forced to wear dresses on the club's charter flight back from Florida last week as part of an initiation ritual instituted by veterans Matt Williams, Jay Bell and Andy Benes.

"It's not hazing," Williams said. "It's tradition. Win or lose, it's been part of a tradition of a lot of players who have been here before us. It's all about doing it and being part of it. It's an experience we all will never forget."

Williams said that he was forced to wear a dress twice while he was a young member of the San Francisco Giants. He claims it was a traditional rite of passage on that team, though -- in the Bay Area -- it's possible that he just fell in with the wrong crowd.

Red Sox roll

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