Conine piece again fits into O's puzzle

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Like last year, he gets at-bats, production

Anderson returns, aids 9th

May 08, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | By Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK — NEW YORK- When Jeff Conine filed for free agency after last season, he hoped circumstances would bring him back to the Orioles. Conine wanted to play on a regular basis, which didn't seem to be a good fit, but club officials said manager Mike Hargrove would keep him busy. Somehow, somewhere, the at-bats would come.

Yesterday marked the eighth consecutive start for Conine, who took over at first base when Will Clark went on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring. He's played in24 of the Orioles' 30 games. Somehow, somewhere, the at-bats have come.

"I was prepared to come in and get 250 at-bats and play my role," he said. "Obviously, you don't wish injuries on anybody. You want the team to do well. But I thought there might be the opportunity to play as often as I did last year."

Conine appeared in139 games last summer, including 99 at first base, which had been vacated by injuries to Clark. With Clark healthy again, the outfield set and Harold Baines returning as the designated hitter, Conine took on the look of a part-time player who wouldn't reach that total this season. Hargrove even tried to mold him into a third baseman so he could back up Cal Ripken.

Until Clark returns, Conine can walk into the clubhouse each day knowing he's the first baseman. And it's not just Clark's status that makes it possible. Conine was hitting .312 in his last 10 games before going0-for-4 yesterday.

"It's easier to prepare when you know that you're going to be in the lineup," he said. "You don't have to press as much, especially when you haven't played in a few days."

Anderson back in lineup

Given the OK by his center fielder, Hargrove wrote Brady Anderson's name in the lineup yesterday against New York right-hander Ramiro Mendoza.

Anderson didn't get into Saturday's game until pinch-running in the ninth inning. He had reported some soreness in his left knee, and Hargrove decided to rest him despite a .302 career average against Yankees starter Roger Clemens.

"He said he felt better today so we put him in there and let him go," Hargrove said.

Anderson went1-for-5, getting a ninth-inning hit off Yankees closer Mariano Rivera on a pitch that was running in on his fists. He scored on a two-run single by Albert Belle.

Earlier in the game, Anderson couldn't catch up to a drive to deep center by Ricky Ledee leading off the seventh. The ball cleared Anderson's head as he attempted to make a sliding catch with his back to the infield, but reliever B.J. Ryan kept the tying run at third.

The Orioles' next three games are at Toronto's SkyDome, with its artificial surface. Hargrove said he didn't believe it would limit Anderson's availability, but added, "We'll just have to wait and see."

Myers waits for chance

With Charles Johnson also returning to the lineup yesterday, catcher Greg Myers moved back to the bench, where he could ponder an.067 average and a season lacking any sort of momentum.

Myers has one hit in 15 at-bats since being activated from the disabled list, where he opened the season because of a strained hamstring. He's played in onlyfive games, making every failed plate appearance hard to dismiss.

"I missed a couple weeks and I'm still battling from that," he said. "I'm feeling better, though. I feel like I'm close."

Myers' hamstring has healed, but he said it's only been five or six days since his right forearm has felt better. He had to leave an April 22 game in Oakland in the ninth inning because of a cramp that locked up his right thumb.

"It got a bit worse after that," he said. "I must have strained a muscle. It probably was a little more than a cramp. [Saturday] was the best I've felt since the spring."

Johnson had been 7-for-42 before leading off the third with a single. He also reached on an infield hit in the fifth and singled off Rivera to open the ninth.

Maduro branches out

The conversion of Calvin Maduro from starter to reliever seemed to indicate he still would be coming into games early. Just not at the beginning.

But Maduro isn't being restricted to long relief. Since Jose Mercedes left the rotation to make room for Scott Erickson, Maduro has been freed up for the middle and late innings. On Saturday, he replaced Pat Rapp with the bases loaded and two outs and retired Shane Spencer on a fly ball. Yesterday, he warmed up in the sixth inning when Sidney Ponson walked the bases loaded.

Maduro had started 189 of 197 games since 1992, when he pitched for the Gulf Coast Orioles. The bullpen provided an unfamiliar view, but he's getting more comfortable with it. He had been scored upon in three straight appearances before Saturday's escape. Prior to that mini-slump, he hadn't allowed a run in five consecutive outings.

Maduro knocks on wood while talking about how well he's adapted physically to the change in roles. "It seems like every time they put me out there, my arm feels really good," he said. "Every time they ask, `Can you pitch?' I'm like, `Yes, because my arm feels good.' "

Maduro's preference is the rotation, but he has trouble the second time through the order. Going to the bullpen is a small price to pay to remain in the majors after spending last season at Triple-A Rochester.

"Wherever they put me, I'll do my best out there," he said. "I'm enjoying this. It's just fun being in the big leagues."

Around the horn

Mercedes hasn't pitched since making his fourth start with the Orioles on April 27, when he last only 1 2/3 innings in Chicago. ... Cal Ripken's home run in the second inning was the 408th of his career, moving him past Duke Snider and Ken Griffey Jr. into 28th place on the all-time list. Next up is Darrell Evans with 414. ... Mike Bordick's hitting streak ended at 10 games. ... Bernie Williams extended his hitting streak to 14 games with a sixth-inning double. ...If Rivera hadn't blown the save, Catonsville's Jeff Nelson would have improved to 6-0 and become the winningest pitcher in the league.

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