Bordick's pop hasn't fizzled with time

April 21, 2000|By John Eisenberg

Mike Bordick isn't offended at the suggestion that his sensational start at the plate in 2000 is, well, maybe a tad exaggerated.

"I know what kind of a hitter I am," the Orioles' shortstop said yesterday. "I'll probably still have four [home runs] at the end of the season."

That's doubtful. It may be inevitable that Bordick falls from his current place among the American League leaders in batting average and RBIs, but it's also seemingly inevitable that he continues to deliver more at the plate than the Orioles ever envisioned when they signed him as a free agent in December 1996.

"He's very much the complete package right now as a hitter," Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley said. "If you pitch him away, he's going to drive the ball to the center field-right field area. If you try to come in on him, he has the power to hit the ball in the left-field seats."

If the rest of the league didn't know that before this season, it does now. Bordick, a career .258 hitter, is hitting .385 with 20 RBIs and those four homers after the Orioles' 8-4 win over the Devils Rays yesterday at Camden Yards.

Those aren't just numbers, either. Bordick, 33, has delivered in several clutch situations, most recently with the Orioles trailing the Devil Rays in the bottom of the seventh inning Wednesday night. Batting ninth, as he has most of the season, Bordick hit a triple to drive in Charles Johnson and Will Clark, tying the score and setting the stage for Cal Ripken's game-winning homer in the ninth.

It was a sequence that summed up his season, he said.

"Will [.375] and Charles [.289] have been on fire and always on base, so I've had a lot of opportunities," Bordick said. "Fortunately, I've been able to take advantage of those early [in the season], but it's a long season and I'm a streaky hitter. I go through ups and downs. My whole objective is to keep those downs to a minimum."

The early part of the season always is filled with atypical numbers, as players bounce around the statistical spectrum before finding their appropriate levels in the long run.

"You might see lifetime .150 hitters hitting .430," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "It takes 40 or 50 games for things to settle down."

But even though Bordick is bound to level off -- his career-best 14-game hitting streak ended yesterday -- it's probably time to re-think the image of a player who was considered all-field, no-hit for most of his career, a player who never had more than 54 RBIs in a season until last season, despite playing every day for five seasons in Oakland before coming to the Orioles.

Shoot, he's already almost halfway to 54 RBIs in just 14 games this season.

"I always thought he had a really good swing," Hargrove said. "It doesn't surprise me at all to see him getting better. He has gone from an off-field hitter when he first came up with Oakland to a guy who has gotten stronger and more knowledgeable and experienced. He hasn't lost that off-field stroke, but now he can also bring [the ball] around and drive it to left-center and center."

Is he stronger? No question. Several years of off-season workouts with Orioles strength coach Tim Bishop and outfielder B. J. Surhoff clearly have made a difference.

"B.J. is such a workaholic," Bordick said. "That helps as far as motivation."

Does he have a new approach at the plate? Again, no question. He traces it to his first off-season with the Orioles, between the 1996 and 1997 seasons.

"I spent a lot of time with [then-hitting coach] Rick Down at [then-manager] Davey Johnson's suggestion," Bordick said. "We worked on utilizing the whole field, hitting to all fields. That's the main difference. I'm just not limiting myself at the plate anymore."

Then there's the final piece of the puzzle -- honing his stroke and eye with Crowley, one of the game's best hitting coaches.

"He works as hard as anyone I've ever been around," Crowley said. "We practice for a long time in the [indoor batting] tunnel every day. We work on the outside pitch, the inside pitch, the low ball. All different kinds of scenarios. I pitch, he hits. It's a routine, like clockwork, 15-20 minutes a day. There isn't even much conversation between us."

Cal Ripken, Charles Johnson, Brady Anderson and Surhoff are among the other Orioles who also spend individual time with Crowley before every game, but Bordick is always one of the first in line.

"It's always either him or B. J. first," Crowley said. "Mike is just tireless. He's got as much energy as a rookie. He bounces around. He enjoys his job. He starts my day off on the right note every day. Puts me in a good mood right away, as soon as I put on the uniform."

What's there for a hitting coach not to love? Or a fan or a manager, for that matter? Bordick is a modest, tireless self-starter who has sought to improve the weakest facet of his game without letting his strength slip -- and succeeded.

"I can't get carried away," Bordick said, "or I'll end up in a hole so bad that I never get back out."

Don't count on it. He's already out of the hole he was in for years, and it appears there's no going back.

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