Right off bat, card leaves Conine with startled look

Insertion in right field catches him by surprise


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

ATLANTA -- As usual, Jeff Conine wandered over to where the Orioles' lineup was posted in the visiting clubhouse at Turner Field yesterday, checking to see if his name was among the batters who would take their cuts against four-time Cy Young Award-winner Greg Maddux.

What Conine found was most unusual: He was occupying right field and the cleanup spot, the previous domains of Albert Belle.

Two nights after he was confronted by Belle in the dugout at Florida's Pro Player Stadium and lured into a heated exchange, Orioles manager Ray Miller made the decision to start Conine, a .357 (10-for-28) lifetime hitter against Maddux.

Miller wouldn't elaborate on his reasons for benching Belle, who became angry Wednesday after being replaced in right field by Rich Amaral in the ninth inning of a 4-2 win over the Marlins. But he said he hoped the combination of Thursday off and last night's view from the dugout would make Belle "fresh" for today's game.

Conine said he had no idea he would be hitting in the fourth slot until arriving at the ballpark. "I hadn't heard anything about it," he said. "I'm just happy to be in the lineup. Nowadays, anytime I come in and see that I'm playing is a good day."

Conine couldn't remember hitting fourth since 1996 while with the Florida Marlins. He had batted third once this season, fifth 16 times, sixth 21 times and seventh twice.

"This doesn't really change anything I do," he said. "You only hit fourth the first time through the lineup. You can't approach it any differently than any other spot."

Conine also claimed he didn't witness the nose-to-nose confrontation between Belle and Miller. "I just heard a brief mention of it, and I went home and didn't watch "Sportscenter" or read the paper the next day. I had no idea anything happened," he said.

Reboulet sore

As a precaution, infielder Jeff Reboulet said he'll probably continue receiving treatment on his right leg for the remainder of the road trip, which concludes tomorrow night.

Reboulet pulled up after crossing the bag on a bunt hit in the eighth inning of the second game of Tuesday's doubleheader in Florida. He has remained available but said he felt some cramping in the back of the leg and might have suffered a mild strain.

"It's pretty good now. I didn't notice it much today," he said.

"It's always day-to-day, minute-to-minute."

Second look at elbow

Miller said reliever Mike Fetters may seek a second opinion on the injury to his right elbow that forced him onto the disabled list last week.

Information usually becomes scarce concerning health issues, and the club isn't specifying the injury. It initially was described as a strain before Fetters was examined in Baltimore by team orthopedist Michael Jacobs.

"Immediate rest was the first suggestion," Miller said. "Usually, that means you let it quiet down, then you do some exercises and throw and see if it's OK."

Fetters is 1-0 with a 5.48 ERA in 20 games. His place on the roster was taken by Scott Kamieniecki.

Draftee impresses

Left-hander Richard Stahl, 18, the second of the club's four first-round picks in the amateur draft, worked out here yesterday and made a lasting impression on Miller.

"He was quite impressive," Miller said. "He looks like he's 9 years old, but a tall 9. And he certainly didn't look that age when he threw the baseball. He threw it extremely well.

"He's a big, strong kid. There wasn't a radar gun, but I'd say he was well above 90 [mph] with a tight breaking ball and changeup. That's the way your picks are supposed to look when they first come in -- tall, thin and good arms."

Stahl, who's 6 feet 7 and 185 pounds, was the 18th player selected in the draft. He pitched at Newton High in Covington, Ga.

Pub Date: 6/12/99

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