Belle swings a DH shift as Baines rests legs

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

But lobbying by coaches keeps Johnson in lineup

May 23, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Harold Baines was out of the lineup again yesterday to rest his sore legs, so the Orioles went with a right-handed designated hitter for the second consecutive game despite the Texas Rangers starting another right-hander. Only this time, it wasn't Rich Amaral who filled in for Baines.

Amaral's name was in the original lineup as the DH, but Ray Miller told Albert Belle he could be used there if seeking a breather. After taking batting practice, Belle took Miller up on his offer, so Amaral was moved to right field. Belle went 1-for-4 with a walk, striking out twice.

It marked the first game that Belle wasn't in the outfield. Once Will Clark returns from the disabled list, Miller also plans to give B. J. Surhoff the same opportunity. Surhoff has started all 42 games in left field.

Miller will wait until today to determine if Baines can return to the lineup. He's bothered by stiffness in his quadriceps, a condition that wasn't helped by his trip around the bases Thursday night, when he advanced to second on a wild pitch that didn't stray far from the plate, and to third on a fly ball to center. He later scored on a double by Cal Ripken.

Miller has been told by the club's medical personnel that Baines is risking injury if he continues playing. He pinch-hit in the ninth inning yesterday and struck out on three pitches.

"He's about the same," Miller said. "He's just going to need a little bit of time. He probably could play, but I told him to take it easy the other night and then the ball gets away from the catcher and he labors into second and then tags up and drags it into third. He told me, `I know what I'm supposed to do, but it's kind of hard.'

"I just don't want to lose him."

Here's a pretty good reason: Baines is hitting .406 (13-for-32) in his last eight games.

Johnson plays on

So much for Charles Johnson getting a day off.

Miller had intended to give rookie Tommy Davis his first major-league start yesterday since the club had played the previous night. But Johnson had two hits Friday, including a three-run homer, to increase his average to .356 (21-for-59) over the last 18 games. Proving rest is overrated, he singled and scored in his first at-bat yesterday.

Hitting coach Terry Crowley and bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks took turns lobbying for Johnson's inclusion in the lineup. By being there yesterday, he has played in the last 18 games, including the May 3 exhibition against the Cuban all-stars. He's made 16 starts during that time.

"Obviously he's been swinging the bat real well," Miller said. "The hitting coach came in and said, `You know, he's young and he's been seeing the ball pretty good.' Then the catching coach comes in and says, `He's really catching good, he's young and he's OK.' So I made both of them go get him and bring him in here."

Miller wanted assurances from Johnson that he wasn't wearing down while Lenny Webster remains on the disabled list with a strained ankle.

"He said, `I feel pretty good and I'm seeing the ball pretty good.' I said, `Yes you are.' So he's in there," Miller said.

Forgotten man

As Cal Ripken continues an impressive return, Willis Otanez continues to watch from the bench. He hasn't moved from there in the last five games and hasn't started since May 10 in Cleveland. His only at-bat in the last 11 games came as a pinch-hitter last Sunday, though he's served twice as a pinch runner.

Otanez had been busy during Ripken's absence, starting 17 of 22 games at third and two as the DH. But he's hitless in his last 10 at-bats, and is 8-for-52 (.154) in 18 games since his average peaked at .346 on April 21.

A reduced role hasn't lessened Otanez's preparation.

"I'm doing more now because I'm not playing," he said. "I knew this was going to happen as soon as Cal came back. Now I've just got to sit and watch and keep learning. I'll try to be ready."

Otanez is out of options and can't be sent down without clearing waivers, a risky proposition since he drove in 100 runs at Rochester last year. The club has been exploring a trade, which could clear a spot for Rochester third baseman Ryan Minor.

Around the horn

Surhoff extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a run-scoring single in the second inning. He's batting .347, and Miller said he'll keep Surhoff in the third slot after Clark returns. Clark will drop to fifth. Clark went 3-for-6 with a double and three walks in a controlled scrimmage in Fort Myers, Fla. He then flew to Baltimore and will have his fractured left thumb re-evaluated today. Clark's expected to be activated for Tuesday's game in Anaheim. Yesterday's crowd of 47,915 was only the second sellout, the other coming Opening Day.

Pub Date: 5/23/99

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