Miller concedes chemistry is issue Club's underachieving start only heightens the tension

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

May 25, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, CALIF. XTC — OAKLAND, Calif. -- The month of positive spin has come to a halt. No longer can the Orioles portray their slide as an aberration. Trades and chemistry have crept into the clubhouse vocabulary.

Asked if his club's chemistry has become a problem, manager Ray Miller conceded that the mix has at times been uncomfortable and that the scrutiny of an underachieving start has only heightened the stress involved.

"Everything is more focused. You pop the ball up and you don't run. The manager says something to the player, but it becomes a focal thing around the country. As a manager, that kind of thing can happen when you're going good. But it looks bad. And it causes people internally to point fingers and think, 'He didn't run. Why didn't you yell at him?' Well, I did, but I didn't make a big deal of it.

"I think that affects chemistry a little bit, but when you're going good, nobody says anything."

In the last week players have been guilty of not running out balls, dropping routine balls and not pursuing difficult chances. Trade talk has sprouted with first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and second baseman Roberto Alomar tied to talks with the New York Mets for second baseman Carlos Baerga and first baseman John Olerud.

While Miller described the talks as "rumors," he acknowledged that trade speculation can serve as a motivator. Miller also insisted the team has not reached a panic mode. Nor has he

given up on his team's long-term prospects.

"I don't think this is a washout for this team. We've still got a lot of games," said Miller. "I guess if you're ownership, you have to look at who's going to be available, who you want to sign. Then you decide whether that's good enough."

Miller has spoken to general manager Pat Gillick and assistant general manager Kevin Malone about possible upgrades, but said he did not feel any deal imminent.

Palmeiro remains opposed to any trade. Given that he possesses a partial no-trade clause that lists the Mets among the teams he may veto, Palmeiro may complicate any arrangement.

"I think a lot of this stuff is a reflection of the way the team is playing," Palmeiro said yesterday. "Any time a team is going bad, people are going to look for changes. Let us start playing better and a lot of this will go away. You watch. As for me, I don't think I'm going anywhere."

Miller spoke with Alomar before batting practice, reminding him that all players are mentioned in trade talks at some point.

Said Alomar: "I just want to have fun playing this game. Maybe they're looking to make a deal. I don't know. But they're not going to give away Raffy and me. It's not fun when you lose like we've been losing. But this is a good team."

Moose on the Mend

Though the date for Mike Mussina's return remains uncertain, the club is optimistic its ace may be able to leave the disabled list when eligible May 30 or shortly thereafter. Mussina underwent surgery to correct his broken nose last Thursday. Typically a two-week wait is needed after such a procedure, but Miller said yesterday there is reason for an accelerated return.

"I guess the fact that they didn't splint it makes for a more rapid recovery," said Miller.

Mussina suffered a line drive to the face against Cleveland May 14. He threw briefly before the Orioles left on their current eight-game road trip, but reported significant pressure in his face and a slight case of blurry vision.

Hoiles in play

Two days after leaving a game with what he believed to be a fractured right wrist, catcher Chris Hoiles caught yesterday's ninth inning. Hoiles' availability became a key ingredient in the Orioles' ninth-inning rally. Wanting to pinch hit for catcher Lenny Webster with Harold Baines, Miller had to have Hoiles ready.

"I threw before the game and took batting practice," said Hoiles. "I'm getting better. If they want me to catch [tonight in Seattle] I can go."

Hoiles injured his right wrist Friday making a throw to third base against base stealer Jason McDonald. On his follow-through, Hoiles caught the barrel of A.J. Hinch's bat and crumpled.

Around the horn

McDonald, the Oakland center fielder who sustained a concussion in a collision with Rickey Henderson Saturday, was released from the hospital and placed on the 15-day disabled list. Outfielder Ryan Christenson was recalled to take McDonald's place. Baines has quietly used the cross-country road trip to make history. Besides playing his 2,500th game on Saturday, he moved past Don Baylor for second on the all-time RBI list for designated hitters. Baines has 805 RBIs as a DH, trailing only Hal McRae's 823. Miller failed to start Brady Anderson against left-hander Kenny Rogers, who has held him to a .147 average. Hitting coach Rick Down will rejoin the team in Seattle. He missed the last two games while attending his daughter's high school graduation in Las Vegas.

Pub Date: 5/25/98

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