Hammonds shows he has right stuff Appreciated, comfortable, he shines both at plate, in 'his' spot in right field

Sidelight

May 30, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

A smiling Boog Powell walked into the Orioles clubhouse last night and headed straight to Jeffrey Hammonds to congratulate him on two outstanding catches Thursday night.

Jim Palmer had a smile and some kind words for Hammonds.

Fans in town are suddenly treating the red-hot outfielder with a lot more respect wherever Hammonds goes around his downtown home.

Cal Ripken said last night "the best is yet to come" for Hammonds.

"Jeffrey's a super talented player," said Ripken. "Everyone was able to see that from the beginning. He can steal bases, beat out hits, run down balls in the outfield and he put up 21 home runs last year."

Manager Ray Miller loves the speed of Hammonds so much he has given him 13 straight starts and seems to have settled on batting him second in the order behind Brady Anderson.

Hammonds' name no longer is the first one that pops up in trade talks.

Yes, Jeffrey Hammonds has been re-invented and at times lately he has been playing a little like a combination of Ken Griffey and Bernie Williams.

"I'm loving every minute of this," Hammonds said. "They've [Orioles] changed their tune about me, haven't they? I didn't have to be re-invented. I never left. I'm the same player I was. I'm just getting a chance to play every day and I'm healthy."

Most important of all, Hammonds finally feels appreciated by Orioles management.

The team gave him a three-year, $7.2 million contract last February and he now believes he is wanted.

"I hate to say it, but the contract really means a lot," he said. "You always wonder where you stand until they invest something in you and the Orioles did that with me."

The praise from Ripken also seemed to touch the 27-year-old last night. "To hear that from Cal is something else," he said. "He's seen a lot in all his years and doesn't miss anything that goes on in the game."

Hammonds went 1-for-3 last night to lift his average to .265. He has five home runs, 22 RBIs, a .449 slugging percentage and is 7-for-9 in stolen bases.

But his daring play in right field has turned everybody on in recent weeks and he foiled the Rangers twice Thursday night with splendid catches.

In the fifth inning, he went racing deep into right-center to spear a drive by Domingo Cedeno with two on and one out.

Hammonds came back in the ninth inning to make an even better catch on a Juan Gonzalez blast, leaping high at the wall to take an extra-base hit away from the Texas slugger.

"I'm feeling comfortable out there in right now," he said. "It's a matter of being familiar with your surroundings and getting help from guys like Eddie Murray and players such as Eric Davis, Joe Carter and Harold Baines."

At the plate, Miller believes Hammonds has improved because he has been more patient and is "laying off the breaking ball more."

"It's helped him to be batting between two lefties [Anderson and Baines or Rafael Palmeiro]," Miller said. "He is blending into the lineup at No. 2 and getting the job done."

Hammonds wasn't completely convinced of Miller's theory for his recent success.

"I'm really the same hitter as I always was," he said. "It's just that I no longer swing at balls I don't have a chance to hit. I admit I used to do that."

So just how far is Hammonds away from being the complete player he wants to be?

"Like Cal said, the best is yet to come," Hammonds said. "I'm getting close."

Pub Date: 5/30/98

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