O's do double take over hot DeShields

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Once trade bait, he's `different player,' says Thrift

bullpen unites

May 09, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO - Delino DeShields has caused the Orioles to re-evaluate their first impression gained from an injury-filled 1999. Whether the sentiment extends beyond the front office is uncertain.

Vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift said yesterday that the club has been "very impressed" with DeShields' lightning start following off-season surgery to free an entrapped nerve in his right thigh. DeShields is batting .365, fifth in the American League, with12 stolen bases, second to Kansas City Royals left fielder Johnny Damon.

DeShields, more agile and quicker to the ball at the plate, proved the Orioles' offensive catalyst during their three-game weekend series in New York, going 7-for-13 with four RBIs and six runs scored. He also equaled a career high with four hits in Friday's 12-10 loss and and is hitting .395 (32-for-81) in his last 21 games, going 2-for-4 last night and just missing a grand slam.

"I think anybody who isn't willing to reassess Delino as a player is foolish," Thrift said. "For one thing, he's healthy. Not only last year but the last two or three seasons he had played with a condition he didn't tell anybody about because he didn't think it was enough" to disclose.

"We're seeing a different player now."

Thrift was less effusive in responding to questions about DeShields' availability for trade. The Orioles devoted much of last winter and this spring to probing a disappointing market.

Asked about the team's position on DeShields, Thrift said, "I'm going to listen. All I'm going to do is listen" if a club expressed interest in a trade.

"But we don't like DeShields just as a second baseman," Thrift said. "We think he can be an outfielder and a designated hitter. He has those kinds of skills."

For now, pressure to elevate prospect Jerry Hairston from Triple-A Rochester has cooled. Hairston has split time between second base and shortstop with the Red Wings. Thrift insisted the move has nothing to do with either DeShields' recent surge or Mike Bordick's status as a pending free agent.

DeShields has remained mum about his status and performance since spring training but indicated then that attracting interest from other teams was part of his motivation for this season. DeShields is on the second year of a three-year, $12.5 million deal, complicating his marketability.

Bullpen support group

Following Sunday's dramatic close against the New York Yankees, Mike Timlin credited a close-knit fraternity among the relief corps as contributing to his enduring a rough return from the disabled list.

Two nights before pitching Sunday's scoreless ninth inning, Timlin began the disastrous four-run ninth that led to a devastating 12-10 loss. He immediately sought a closed-door meeting with manager Mike Hargrove, but later took a walk outside the team's Manhattan hotel with fellow reliever Chuck McElroy.

"We just talked," remembered McElroy. "Face it, we're the only ones who really know what each other is going through. You have to be there for each other."

At one point the two relievers came upon a homeless man asleep on the sidewalk. Both men construed the scene as needed perspective.

"You see that and you realize how lucky you are," said McElroy. "Whether you're going good or bad, you're a major-league player. How many people would like to trade places with you on your worst day?"

McElroy described the bullpen as "a family" where petty jealousies don't exist.

"A lot of teams don't have that, but I know we have a good group," McElroy said. "I know that any time somebody goes out there, everybody is pulling for him to succeed, especially Mike. For us to succeed, Mike has to succeed."

Timlin cited fellow Texan Buddy Groom as an easy ear during the past several weeks when his return from the disabled list began a struggle that pushed his ERA above 8.00 until Sunday's lockdown.

"It's a tough enough game as it is," said Groom, who has known Timlin since college. "Everybody is going to struggle but we know we have a good bullpen. It's just a matter of helping each other get through some tough times before things sort themselves out."

Clark begins activity

On the disabled list, first baseman Will Clark is approaching the second phase of his recovery from a strained left hamstring. Until now, Clark has rested the leg but hopes to soon return to the field for light hitting and tossing.

"It's only been five days," Clark said yesterday. "I haven't been on the field yet. Hopefully, that's coming soon."

Clark's absence has meant regular work for Jeff Conine at first base and greater availability for designated hitter Harold Baines vs. left-handed pitching. Today marks the first time since Clark went down with the hamstring strain May 2 that the Orioles have seen a left-handed starting pitcher. David Wells and left-hander Lance Painter start the series' final two games for Toronto.

Searching for relief

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