Surhoff's powerful hit streak reaches 19

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

He hits 8th homer in tear

Belle boos concern Miller

June 19, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

CHICAGO -- The magic ride continues for B. J. Surhoff. If not for three aberrant days in May the Orioles left fielder could be pushing a 37-game hitting streak.

Surhoff yesterday settled instead for a first-inning home run off Chicago White Sox starter Jaime Navarro and another notch on what has grown to become a career-high 19-game streak.

Except for three hitless days against the Anaheim Angels and Oakland A's May 26-28, Surhoff has not been checked since May 9.

"There's some luck that goes along with it, too. Today I hit the ball five times on the barrel of the bat. If you do that once or twice a game your chances diminish significantly," said Surhoff, whose 2-for-5 day lifted his average to .345. "I don't mind being behind in the count if they miss. Hopefully, if I'm ahead in the count I can zone in a little better and make them throw me strikes. I try to cover the plate, use the whole field and take what they give me."

Surhoff's run has included few poor swings and even fewer poor at-bats. He has struck out only 36 times in 278 at-bats, an average of once per 7.72 at-bats compared to last year when he struck out once every 7.07 at-bats.

"Sometimes you'd rather swing and miss, especially early in the count. At least then the pitcher has to make another pitch," said Surhoff.

No longer likely to brood over a poor at-bat, Surhoff has become more adept at making adjustments during a game, a central component of any extended run. Earlier this season he hit in 15 straight games before Tim Belcher and Scott Schoeneweis shut him down May 26. Surhoff then fell into an 0-for-12 funk that he snapped May 29 with a pinch home run off T. J. Mathews in Oakland.

Surhoff's tear hasn't consisted of many flares or infield hits. During his 19-game tear he has homered eight times and has 17 RBIs.

"I'm just letting the ball get in the zone and getting good swings. If you put the barrel of the bat on the ball you've got a chance. You haven't seen any big swings out of me. I had a two-strike homer here; I had a two-strike home run off [Atlanta's Greg] Maddux; I had a two-strike homer off [White Sox middle reliever [Keith] Foulke at our place. That's from looking for the ball, reacting and taking a nice short swing," Surhoff said.

Never an All-Star, Surhoff finds himself among the league leaders in hits, total bases and average. He is also hitting .409 after the sixth inning.

"People around the league probably think I'm just hitting home runs at home and just getting them over the [right-field] wall," said Surhoff. "Really, I've hit more homers on the road the last couple years than I have at home. It's not a conscious thing. It's a reaction thing."

Miller on Belle: Lay off

Manager Ray Miller may have had recent differences with Albert Belle but he remains sensitive to the verbal abuse he has heard directed at his right fielder, especially the past two days in Chicago.

"I know you have to take it, but something should be done about the stuff that he hears," Miller said before yesterday's game, during which Belle was again loudly booed. "It's one thing to be critical but a lot of this stuff goes too far."

Belle's recent dugout run-in with Miller appears to have exacerbated his road reception; however, his return to the park in which he played the previous two seasons has elicited particular venom.

"To me, it's like if you have a neighbor who looks over the fence every day and calls you a blankety-blanking-blank. At some point you're going to go get him," said Miller, who added he is hardly endorsing retaliatory action by Belle.

DeShields returns, starts

Second baseman Delino DeShields rejoined the team yesterday morning after the birth of his third child, a son, in Atlanta. Batting eighth, DeShields singled in his first at-bat and contributed two important defensive plays to allow Mike Mussina to escape the ninth inning.

Over his last 33 games, DeShields is hitting .360 with 21 runs and 14 RBIs, raising his overall average from .135 to .271.

Preserving Ponson

The schedule-maker has thrown a wrench into Miller's recently well-oiled starting rotation.

Given days off on consecutive Mondays, Miller must decide whether to allow the entire rotation to take a turn on five days' rest or ask Sidney Ponson to pitch on short rest tomorrow to keep the others on schedule. As of yesterday, Miller was leaning heavily toward bumping everyone back to avoid undue strain on Ponson, 22, who pitched a complete game against Kansas City Thursday.

"I don't know. I think we'll stay as is for now and see what happens after the second day [June 28]," he said.

With a critical six-game homestand looming against Boston and New York, Miller will send Ponson, Juan Guzman and Mussina against the Red Sox. Scott Erickson, Jason Johnson and Ponson would follow against the Yankees.

Orosco vote of confidence

Miller gave reliever Jesse Orosco a vote of confidence after the left-hander surrendered a walk and a grand slam during the White Sox' four-run seventh inning Thursday. Orosco's ERA stands at 7.31 after 27 appearances and he has surrendered four home runs in 16 innings. Perhaps most disturbing, Orosco has issued 14 walks and hit a batter while striking out 16.

Miller dismissed any suggestion that he may reassign his late-inning specialist to duty earlier in games. "The three or four times before last night I thought Jesse had thrown fine," Miller said. "He usually starts slow. We'll see."

Around the horn

Largely because of the rotation's recent performance, Doug Johns has not appeared since June 8, the longest stretch of inactivity by a healthy Orioles reliever this season. Mike Timlin's last save occurred on May 27. With an afternoon game after a night game, third baseman Cal Ripken got the day off.

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