Miller tries new look for a night

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Surhoff takes a seat for first time since '97

catcher Davis gets start

May 30, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The first day off in more than a year for one player and the first major-league start for another gave the Orioles a new look last night against the Oakland Athletics.

And, according to manager Ray Miller, the tinkering may continue today as he searches for ways to freshen his team during a concentrated run of road games.

His 15-game hitting streak now a memory, left fielder B. J. Surhoff was absent from the starting lineup after appearing in the Orioles' previous 47 games this season and all 162 games last season. Surhoff last sat on the final day of the '97 season. Catcher Tommy Davis received his first start since being promoted from Triple-A Rochester on May 14 as Miller paired him with former minor-league batterymate Jason Johnson, who made his second start for the Orioles.

Davis' night proved longer than Johnson's, who left after three innings trailing, 5-0.

Surhoff's rest didn't last long either -- he pinch hit in the eighth inning, and homered to cap a four-run rally that beat the A's, 7-5.

Reminded of Surhoff's rare absence from the lineup, Miller said, "I've got to do it sooner or later. It seemed like this was as good a time as any. It's a day game tomorrow. It's time to move on."

Surhoff and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro appeared in every game last season and Cal Ripken played in 161. A point of pride a year ago to the former catcher, Surhoff dismissed the day off as "no big deal" and reminded that he left several games early last season compared to this season.

"I've actually played a lot more innings this year," said Surhoff, who entered last night in an 0-for-12 funk since his hitting streak ended. "It's not like I started every game last year. There were times when I'd come out early or pinch hit. In a way, I've been out there much more this year."

Surhoff is hitting .125 (2-for-16) on the road trip after a 24-for-74 tear. He entered last night fifth in the American League with 64 hits and had batted .333 since being moved to the No. 3 spot in the order.

Miller acknowledged that Surhoff's recent slump factored in his decision as the left fielder carried a .600 career average with two home runs in five at-bats against A's starting pitcher Gil Heredia.

"I don't believe in living and dying by the stats but you look at them and they usually tell you the most when a guy is going good," said Miller.

Hot-hitting Jeff Conine got his first start of the season in the outfield despite 1-for-10 career success against Heredia. Previously, Surhoff, Brady Anderson and Albert Belle had missed a combined five starts in the outfield. Belle, who has appeared once as designated hitter, remains the only Oriole player to appear in every game. Belle holds the active consecutive games streak at 382. Miller said he has no plans to sit the right fielder.

Davis, who singled for his first major-league hit, had been waiting for last night for two weeks. Since being summoned from Rochester he had appeared in three games and received only one at-bat, which became the final out in the May 14 loss to the Texas Rangers. Miller notified the rookie of his chance in Anaheim as he hoped to prevent Charles Johnson from catching nine games in nine days.

"I've been waiting a little while for this, but in my situation you have to be patient to get a chance," said Davis, well aware of Johnson's reputation as a defensive catcher and a witness to the Gold Glover's recent offensive tear. "I feel great. Sitting around thinking about it you get a little nervous but you try to look at is as what you're here for."

Down time for Ripken

Miller suggested that Ripken may receive his first day off since returning from the disabled list before the Orioles head to Seattle and the unyielding Kingdome turf for three games.

Ripken has hit in 12 of 15 games since being activated May 13; however, he had struggled at a 2-for-17 clip on this road trip and Miller noted his frequent lunges at knuckleballer Tom Candiotti's offerings Friday night.

"After Cal sat down last year I talked to him about [time off]," Miller said. "I told him I thought if he checked his numbers, they were pretty good on a Tuesday after we played a Sunday afternoon game and had an off day Monday."

Given the loss of Willis Otanez to a waiver claim, Miller would likely use Jeff Reboulet in Ripken's place. Reboulet hasn't started since May 18.

"It would be a lot easier if you were winning more games," said Miller. "It would be a lot easier to rest people. Every day I say I'm going to give this guy a rest and this guy a rest. But it's not easy."

May by numbers

Despite entering the weekend at .500 for the month (12-12), the Orioles still had some players among the statistical leaders at that point in May.

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