Webster doesn't mask joy over expanded role Career backup looms large in club's winning streak


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

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Backup catchers are typically relegated to footnotes when a season is reviewed. For Lenny Webster, his role has become a key component in the Orioles' recent offensive revitalization.

Webster, who sat out last night, is on a 6-for-10 binge that includes four RBIs. Over his last 19 games, he is hitting .365 (23-for-63) with seven extra-base hits and 12 RBIs.

All this from a career backup who signed for $665,000 with an option for next season that vests at 70 games. Webster has played in 63 games and is closing in on his first installment of $25,000 bonuses based upon plate appearances.

"I think a lot of it has to do with me getting the opportunities I had in the first half," said Webster, who has received 46 starts to 50 by Chris Hoiles, who was 1-for-4 last night. "I've never received much time early in a season. I've tried to make the most of it. The good thing is I've always considered myself a pretty good second-half player."

A .367 hitter against left-handed pitching, Webster entered this season with a career .269 average after the All-Star break compared with .240 before. Last year he produced nearly identical numbers in both halves after being given an everyday opportunity following a knee injury to Hoiles.

Webster's role has expanded the past two years after originally serving only as Scott Erickson's personal catcher. He now handles rookie Sidney Ponson and worked Nerio Rodriguez's six-inning, one-hit outing last Monday.

Webster worked both games against the Texas Rangers in 100-degree heat Wednesday and Thursday.

"You tell yourself you're just going to deal with it," Webster said. "I'd sit in the hotel room getting ready, telling myself it's not going to be that bad. Of course, you know it's going to be hot. But you deal with it like everything else.

"Hey, it's an opportunity to play. That's all I've ever wanted."

Anderson to stay at No. 2

Manager Ray Miller plans to keep the top of his batting order as is, meaning Roberto Alomar will continue to hit leadoff while Brady Anderson will remain second. Oddly, Anderson has performed more like a prototypical leadoff hitter since Miller removed him from the spot.

Going 0-for-4 with a walk last night, Anderson is hitting .308 (12-for-39) in his last 10 games. Nine of those games were played hitting No. 2. Anderson contributed two bunt singles Thursday against Texas and last night stole his seventh base during the 10-game span.

"Everybody assumed hitting leadoff was a big deal to me," said Anderson. "I really don't care. It was all right with me when I was hitting sixth. I think everyone agreed the last couple years that I was the best guy on this team to bat leadoff. Hitting second is fine. It basically allows me to do anything I want."

Said Miller: "I just think right now Robbie has more of the mindset you associate with a leadoff hitter."

On the injury front

Reliever Arthur Rhodes is eligible to come off the disabled list on Monday, but he may require more time to recover from a strained left elbow. Rhodes will likely throw from a mound for the first time in two weeks before tomorrow's game.

Miller speculated that Jeffrey Hammonds may return to the bTC lineup tonight against left-hander Jarrod Washburn. Hammonds has received only two at-bats since June 6 as he deals with a herniated disk. The outfielder made his first start Monday since coming off the DL and experienced some tingling in the back of his left shoulder and down his arm after striking out in the first inning. He left the game in the sixth.

Around the horn

Cal Ripken doubled in the eighth for his 953rd extra-base hit, moving him past Mickey Mantle and into a tie for 27th place with Willie Stargell. Continuing his stay at Triple-A Rochester, Rocky Coppinger allowed two runs in seven innings against Louisville Thursday. Anaheim's Garret Anderson had a single in the seventh to extend his hitting streak to 15 games. Second baseman Jesse Garcia was sent from Double-A Bowie to Rochester.

Pub Date: 7/18/98

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