Anderson's uphill climb is one swing at a time 10-game streak brings him to .240s after poor start

Sidelight

August 17, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- Brady Anderson entered uncharted territory in his first at-bat last night. A lined single off Cleveland Indians starter Jaret Wright pushed him to a .245 average.

A year ago the number would have seemed like a depression. Three months ago it seemed like a cliff. While the Orioles continue a second-half salvage operation that includes a revitalized offense, Anderson continues to piece together a competent season in spite of a disastrous April and May.

Anderson's first-inning single extended his hitting streak to 10 games. The Orioles center fielder has scored in seven of those games, had extra-base hits in six and homered in four, including one two-homer game. He also has nine RBIs in the span, matching his total for his previous 30 games.

"I look at a lot of things besides average," says Anderson, who weighs slugging percentage and on-base percentage more heavily than batting average. "I look at whether I'm generating power, driving in runs, scoring runs. There's a lot more going on than batting average."

For a long while this season Anderson had absolutely nothing going on. Playing the first season of a five-year, $31 million contract, a strained shoulder joint affected his ability to swing through the ball and left him in almost constant pain. Before finally going on the disabled list April 20, he had tumbled to an .077 average with only one home run in 52 at-bats.

Anderson's average didn't scale the .100 barrier until May 14, a day after he hit his second and third home runs.

Even when Anderson's health improved, bad habits caused by the condition lingered. He habitually pulled off the ball, producing nothing but pop flies to the opposite field. Manager Ray Miller dropped him from his coveted leadoff spot on June 30, 10 days after his average cleared .200 for the first time this season.

Anderson addressed his inability to use all fields immediately before the just-completed 10-game road trip. Before the club left for Minnesota, Anderson put himself through a grueling session of off-day hitting, willing himself to stay inside the ball in order to drive it to left field. "This," he says, "is the best I've driven it all year. I've been pretty consistent, which is good."

A career .261 hitter, Anderson has competed against himself ever since the four-week funk that threatened to vaporize his season almost before it began. By hitting .300 over the past five months he could raise his season average to .270.

Despite his recent rush, Anderson still needs to close fast. Since going 4-for-63 to start the season, he has batted .280, including 1-for-3 last night.

Once married to his leadoff role, Anderson has found a comfortable spot batting second behind speed threat Roberto Alomar. Miller once said Alomar possessed "more a leadoff hitter's mentality," a backhanded reference to Anderson's reluctance to shave his strike zone and hit to all fields.

However, since moving to No. 2 in order, Anderson has lifted his average from .215 to .244. Such moves represent a good series in May. In August it means nothing less than a three-week tear.

"You just try to do as much as you can with each at-bat," he says. "If you hit the ball hard, you have a chance for something good to happen."

Pub Date: 8/17/98

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