Belle's home runs are turning to walks

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Pitched around, newcomer 8th in O's slugging average

Johnson bats ninth, for now

May 27, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Orioles acquired Albert Belle for his numbers but could hardly anticipate the relative power drought he has so far endured.

The Orioles right fielder has nine home runs and a team-leading 31 RBIs, numbers that project to well over 30 home runs and 115 RBIs for the season. But by Belle's own definition, they are below par.

Few, if any, individual statistics this season rank with Belle's one double in 157 at-bats. A year after slamming 48 doubles with the Chicago White Sox, Belle has one fewer double than utility infielder Jeff Reboulet in 105 more at-bats. Two bids to drill balls into the left-field corner last night were snared by California third baseman Troy Glaus in an 0-for-4 game. Belle has actually been thrown out more attempting to stretch a single (twice).

"The only thing I can think of is the 43 walks," manager Ray Miller said before last night's middle game of the Anaheim Angels series. "We were ahead 12-1 [Sunday night against Texas] and they threw him a 3-1 split-finger on the outside corner before they walked him. I'm sure it's tough on him because he's walking so much. When he does get in a situation where he gets a pitch, he's jumping at a pitch he doesn't have to right away."

Belle is leading the American League in walks and trails New York Mets first baseman John Olerud by only one for the major-league lead. Considered one of the game's most intelligent hitters, Belle has never accepted 100 walks in a season. His current pace would give him 155.

Belle, the game's most prolific slugger the past eight seasons, now finds himself with the Orioles' eighth-highest slugging percentage (.446), trailing leadoff hitter Brady Anderson, Jeff Conine and Cal Ripken, among others.

Belle appears to be pressing in run-producing situations. Through Tuesday the cleanup hitter was batting .231 with runners in scoring position, including .208 with runners in scoring position and two outs. He has walked in 14 of 66 plate appearances in those situations, including six intentional walks. Belle remains hitless in three at-bats with the bases loaded and has repeatedly fallen prey to first pitches.

"Maybe after all those walks he's thinking the best shot he's going to get is the first pitch. Maybe the guy is trying to get ahead," Miller said.

Otanez revisited

The Orioles and third baseman Willis Otanez may not be history after all.

After double-checking with the league office, team officials were told that they retain control of the 26-year-old third baseman should he clear waivers following a 10-day window in which the Orioles may trade him. The club designated Otanez for assignment on Tuesday to clear roster space for first baseman Will Clark. Though Otanez vowed he would not report to Triple-A Rochester, he would have little choice if no other team procures him.

Any team claiming Otanez on waivers must place him on its 25-man major-league roster.

Johnson stays in place

After laboring to produce one RBI in April, catcher Charles Johnson has emerged as the Orioles' leading home run hitter while occupying the No. 9 hole.

Asked whether he had considered bumping Johnson higher in the order, Miller conceded he had but thought better of it after meeting with hitting coach Terry Crowley.

Having helped Johnson cut down his swing, Crowley argued it would be better to allow Johnson to remain in his current comfort zone.

"I've been tinkering with it; I almost did it again today," Miller said.

His patience was rewarded when Johnson's two-out, second-inning single drove in the Orioles' second run last night.

Johnson is batting .343 for the month with nine home runs and 19 RBIs in 21 games.

A typical leading man

Brady Anderson entered last night's game with a combined slugging/on base percentage of .891, a solid number for a leadoff hitter batting .279.

Anderson, who has never walked more than 98 times in a season, has accepted 31 walks and leads the league by being hit with eight pitches. While Anderson also is leading the club with 32 strikeouts, he has scored a team-high 37 runs and generated 72 total bases, second only to left fielder B. J. Surhoff.

Anderson's combined .891 figure would be the second best of his career, lagging only his monstrous 1.033 set in 1996 when he slugged 50 home runs and 37 doubles.

"I've always been willing to take a walk even though I'm not up there looking for one," Anderson said before going 0-for-4 with a strikeout last night. "If the pitch is there, I'm hacking. But I'm interested in doing whatever it takes to get on base. I think I always have been."

Around the horn

The Orioles scouting department begins meetings today in preparation for next Wednesday's amateur draft. Possessing seven of the draft's first 50 picks, the Orioles face an unprecedented opportunity to stock their minor leagues. Tuesday's night's 4-1 loss had historical significance to the locals. Played in 2: 01, it was the fastest game at Edison International Field since July 17, 1993. Rochester placed infielder Jesse Garcia (sprained left wrist) and left-handed pitcher Terry Burrows (partial tear of the left rotator cuff) on the disabled list and acquired infielder P. J. Forbes from the Triple-A Oklahoma Redhawks of the Texas Rangers' organization for future considerations. Orioles reliever Mike Fetters will sign autographs and talk with fans at the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum on June 5 from 1 to 2 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for children 5-16.

Pub Date: 5/27/99

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