Next move for Belle: 3rd in batting order Also new to right field, he'll bat ahead of O's Clark to break lefty logjam

December 14, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- An assumption that the Orioles had obtained a left fielder and cleanup hitter when they signed Albert Belle to a $65 million contract suffered another hit yesterday when manager Ray Miller said he plans to place Belle third in his reconfigured batting order, ahead of first baseman Will Clark.

Miller's move sounds unorthodox but is based more upon flow than convention. Belle has led the major leagues in home runs the past eight seasons and last year produced 99 extra-base hits, but he also represents a potent right-handed bat in a lineup stacked with left-handers.

Miller projects Delino DeShields and Brady Anderson as his first two hitters, meaning the installation of Clark or Harold Baines as No. 3 would make the lineup's top third exclusively left-handed.

"It becomes the makeup of your club. How many lefties have you got hitting in a row? Who hits lefties? Who hits righties? That helps determine how your club is set up," Miller said.

This wouldn't be the first change for Belle. Miller told B. J. Surhoff before he re-signed that he would return to left field. Miller has spoken with Belle about a shift to right, which at Camden Yards is much smaller than left.

Miller incessantly tinkered with his lineup last season, often to the distraction of his veteran club. He used 132 different lineups, fewer than only the Kansas City Royals (133), Tampa Bay Devil Rays (139) and Minnesota Twins (140), three of the league's weakest offensive teams.

Seemingly addicted to alternating left-handed and right-handed hitters, Miller pledged yesterday to go with a more consistent lineup, regardless of whether the Orioles face right- or left-handed pitching.

Clark batted fifth for 519 of 554 at-bats with the Texas Rangers last year. Belle hit cleanup for 592 of 609 at-bats with the Chicago White Sox. Belle has received only 33 at-bats out of the cleanup spot the last five seasons.

Miller intends to follow Clark with the designated hitter, whether it be Baines or Chris Hoiles. Baines led the American League by hitting .388 with runners in scoring position last year; Hoiles averaged an RBI every 4.77 at-bats, the best ratio on the club. Surhoff will likely follow as the No. 6 hitter, with Cal Ripken, Charles Johnson and Mike Bordick completing the batting order. Aside from his DH, Miller does not envision a platoon at any position.

"I'm leaning toward having it as close to an [everyday] lineup where there aren't as many changes based on left and right and position in the order," said Miller, who extended his pledge to restoring a semblance of roles within what was a disheveled bullpen last season.

"One of the things I've seen in my career is some guys can't hit fourth. Another guy might not want to lead off. Heck, you lead off one time and then you might hit anywhere after that," he said. "I've seen guys tearing the ball hitting third, tearing the ball hitting sixth, then all of a sudden you hit 'em fourth and they can't make contact."

Another persistent question confronting Miller regards a seemingly combustible clubhouse mix. The additions of Belle, Clark and DeShields introduce an intriguing dynamic to a team ** long defined by understated personalities.

"Everybody asks about chemistry. Have you ever seen a team win and have bad chemistry? Every team that wins has the greatest bunch of guys in the world," Miller said. "What happens usually is in April or May chairs get [thrown] and you pull a few people apart. It's like self-adjusting brakes on a car. That's where chemistry starts."

Pub Date: 12/14/98

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