Figga catches starting opportunity

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Johnson flies to Florida due to death in his family

June 06, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

For only the second time in the last 29 games, Orioles catcher Charles Johnson wasn't in the lineup. But the circumstances didn't involve his getting a much-needed rest. Instead he had to return to Florida because of a death in the family.

Manager Ray Miller gave the start to Mike Figga, who began the season with the New York Yankees before being claimed off waivers on Thursday.

Figga appeared in two games with the Yankees this season, getting into both ends of a May 22 doubleheader in Chicago. He didn't have an at-bat until stepping to the plate in the third inning last night, when he walked. He finished 0-for-3 with a walk.

Johnson is expected to return to the club today.

Figga, who was designated for assignment by the Yankees to make room for former Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco, made one start in New York in 1997 and another in '98. His only big-league hit coming into last night was off Cleveland's Jason Jacome last September, on a ball that caromed off the left-field wall to David Justice so quickly that he was held to a single.

"I remember being a little nervous at first, Yankee Stadium and a big crowd, but also having fun," he said before the game. "That's what I'm going to do tonight. Have fun and enjoy it."

Told in advance about his pending start, Figga sat down with pitcher Sidney Ponson for a little get-acquainted session before leaving the clubhouse Friday night.

"I tried to get a feel for how he is," Figga said. "I've seen him pitch. I've never faced him or caught him, though. We went over how he pitches. I know he's a power pitcher and he has good stuff. My hands will be full tonight."

Figga, 28, hit .280 with 26 homers and 95 RBIs at Triple-A Columbus last season. He was out of options, and the Yankees knew the chances of sneaking him through waivers were slim. With Lenny Webster still on the disabled list with a strained tendon in his right ankle, the Orioles jumped at the chance to add Figga and send backup Tommy Davis to Rochester.

Davis appeared in only five games after having his contract purchased from Rochester on May 14, going 1-for-6. Miller said Figga's playing time will be more substantial if Webster remains unavailable for an extended period. He was eligible to come off the DL May 28 but still experiences discomfort in the ankle when moving to his right.

Johnson has appeared more in need of a breather lately. He is in a 4-for-22 skid during his past seven games, though he still is hitting .291 (16-for-55) in his past 16.

Slugfests galore

Miller has bad news for fans who prefer low-scoring games to the marathon slugfests that have been so prevalent in the majors this year: It's probably going to get worse before it gets better.

"When it gets hot, you're going to see a lot more frustration from the pitchers. They're going to be tired of throwing at a postage-stamp strike zone," he said.

"The only thing baseball can do is get the mound back up to 13-15 inches. That would take some of the stress off the arms and you'll see better pitching. I know a lot of fans like offense, but 13-12 isn't baseball."

Miller said he doesn't expect the mound to be altered because "the powers-to-be in baseball believe people want to see a lot of offense."

Caution with DeShields

After being scratched from the lineup before Friday's game, Delino DeShields got through batting practice without his back stiffening yesterday and started at second base.

DeShields left Tuesday's game in Seattle in the sixth inning with what club officials are calling a lower-back strain. He didn't play the next night and was restricted to pinch hitting on Friday. Rich Amaral took over at second base after DeShields grounded out.

DeShields had no problem swinging the bat before last night's game, putting a couple balls in the seats. He began last night on a tear, hitting .375 (27-for-72) with six doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs in his past 22 games.

He went 1-for-5 last night but the hit was a big one, a legged-out dribbler wide of first that enabled the Orioles to tie the score with two outs in the ninth.

Keeping hot bats going

The trips to Florida and Atlanta for two more interleague series mean the Orioles will be without a designated hitter. And this means Miller must find at-bats for Harold Baines, who is hitting .453 (29-for-64) with five homers and 15RBIs in his last 18 games. He leads the club with 42 RBIs, three more than B. J. Surhoff, and has reached 2,700 hits for his career.

"The only way I can get a second at-bat for him [besides pinch hitting] is by double-switching and having him play in the outfield for an inning," Miller said.

Miller already is having difficulty keeping Jeff Conine's hot bat in the lineup since Will Clark came off the DL. Conine is hitting .354(35-for-99) with four homers and 17 RBIs in his last 29 games, but hasn't started five of the last six.

His chances apparently will come on the road trip by spelling Clark at first base and Surhoff in left field.

Bad numbers

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