Otanez moves from hot corner to hot seat

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Slumping third baseman could lose roster spot to Ripken

DeShields returns

May 12, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- Ray Miller said he would waste no time getting Cal Ripken back into the Orioles' lineup once the third baseman is activated. What he left unsaid is that rookie Willis Otanez hasn't exactly claimed the position in the Iron Man's absence.

In the throes of an 8-for-51 (.157) slump, Otanez sat out last night in part because his manager believes the slump has begun to affect his defensive play as well. "He hasn't been reacting," Miller said.

Sensing that Otanez is pressing, Miller gave Jeff Reboulet the start at third last night, as he had tried to do the past two games before scratching second baseman Delino DeShields from the lineup. Jeff Conine also continues to take grounders there before every game.

Otanez, 26, is out of options and would have to pass through waivers before returning to the minors. The club also could clear room for Ripken on the 25-man roster by sending first baseman Calvin Pickering back to Triple-A Rochester.

"I'm not totally sure what we'll do," Miller said. "We could go with 11 pitchers, I guess, but I don't really want to. We'll have to wait until that moment comes and discuss everything."

Otanez conceded he's been swinging at bad pitches and is trying to be less aggressive at the plate.

"I'm working at it every day," said Otanez, who was fifth in the International League last year with 27 homers and 100 RBIs despite missing the last two weeks to join the Orioles. "I'll be OK. I'm not losing my confidence to hit. No matter what happens, it's not going to get me down. I've just got to slow down a little bit. I'm trying to do too much."

Miller cited a recent game when Otanez was batting with the bases loaded, two outs and the count full. He noticed the catcher signaling for the next pitch to be up over the plate, out of the strike zone but enticing enough to lure the rookie into chasing it. Sure enough, Otanez swung through the ball rather than accepting the walk.

"Crow [hitting coach Terry Crowley] has been battling to get him to stay compact, but it's affecting his game all over," Miller said, citing two plays Otanez failed to make that led to runs in Monday's 6-4 loss.

Otanez disputes the notion his defense, especially his ability to react, is impacted by the slump.

"It's not like that," he said. "I always try to play good defense. I've got to help the team somehow. If I'm not hitting, I can help them with my defense. I don't let these things stay in my mind when I go on the field."

DeShields plays in pain

Though still experiencing some discomfort in his lower back, Delino DeShields returned to the lineup after beginning the past two games on the bench.

DeShields has been bothered by occasional pain in his back since Sunday in Detroit. He was scratched from the lineup that afternoon and again before Monday's game, but was able to hit off a tee and take infield yesterday.

"It's still hurting, but I'm going to try to do it," he said before the game. "I've never had back problems like that before. It feels better but it just doesn't feel right."

He beat out an infield grounder in the fourth inning last night, but was wincing noticeably from the effort. Still, he stole second base. In the sixth, he doubled and came around to score, but again seemed to be moving gingerly.

DeShields, who began the season on the DL with a fractured thumb, was coming off his first multi-hit game Saturday in Detroit.

"That's the way it's been going for me so far," he said.

Clark starts swinging

Confined in previous days to running and taking ground balls, first baseman Will Clark was able to swing a bat yesterday. He hit some soft tosses in the indoor cage, then soaked his fractured left thumb in a cup of ice water while reading a magazine at his locker.

"He was whacking the [heck] out of the ball, swinging hard. I was real excited about that," Miller said.

Clark didn't share his manager's enthusiasm. "I'll be excited when I'm able to take it on the field," he said.

When it was suggested he didn't feel any pain in the thumb, Clark said, "I didn't say that."

One run at a time

Crowley draws a very distinct line between the Orioles' improved starting pitching and their prolific offense this month.

"A lot of times when it's a close game, guys hit better than in lopsided games. Otherwise, they try to do a little too much," he said.

"When you're trailing by a bunch of runs and you hit an opposite-field single, that's not going to help out on the scoreboard. You try to get a quick one back and pitchers, more often than not, don't let you do that."

A hero stops by

North County grad Billy Whitecotton missed his golden chance to snag some mementos from his childhood hero yesterday.

The 1998 draftee started on the mound for the Gulf Coast League Orioles in Ripken's rehab game yesterday in Fort Myers, Fla., but the Anne Arundel County resident resisted the urge to solicit pictures and autographs from the 16-time All-Star after the game.

Whitecotton's teammates were less shy, clamoring around Ripken with instant cameras, baseballs and markers.

"Everyone was mobbing him, so I thought I'd wait," Whitecotton said.

Around the horn

Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar will miss two games after having a shot in his left knee. He had surgery on the knee during the off-season. A plane circled the ballpark trailing a sign that said: "Albert & Art -- Now Balti-Morons" -- a dig at former Indian Albert Belle and former Browns owner Art Modell, now head of the Ravens. The Indians, averaging 7.06 runs per game, have scored five or more in their last 12 games.

Brant James contributed to this article.

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