Feeling `awful' at the plate, Segui takes slump to bench

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

He whiffs as pinch hitter

McElroy shakes off rust

April 09, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- Once insistent that first baseman David Segui could overcome more than two lost weeks of spring training, manager Mike Hargrove acknowledged his cleanup hitter's sluggish start by resting him yesterday against Cleveland Indians left-handed rookie C. C. Sabathia.

"Right now I'm awful," Segui said after batting practice. "Nothing feels good."

Segui is sitting on a .111 average that includes six strikeouts in 18 at-bats. His search for timing at the plate is compounded by his need for comfort on both sides. "It's two totally different swings," the switch-hitter said. "That adds to it."

Segui's two hits came five days apart -- an infield single against Pedro Martinez in Monday's opener and an opposite-field ground-rule double against Indians starter Bartolo Colon on Saturday. "I was probably more comfortable against Martinez than anybody," Segui said.

Trailing 4-3, Hargrove called upon Segui to pinch hit with two outs and the tying run at first base in yesterday's ninth inning. He was caught looking at strike three and complained loudly to plate umpire Brian O'Nora.

Like the rest of his slumping team, Segui has encountered pitchers with distinctively different looks. Martinez's overpowering fastball was followed by the deception of forkball specialist Hideo Nomo, who was followed by soft-tossing Frank Castillo.

First baseman Jeff Conine yesterday described the Indians' Friday starting pitcher, Dave Burba, as the only "normal" arm they've seen. A number of veteran hitters also have been challenged by a newly defined strike zone that has grown vertically while failing to shrink horizontally as promised this spring. Segui, however, used none of it as an excuse.

"It really doesn't matter who you're facing if you're not comfortable. And right now, I'm not comfortable," Segui said. "It comes down to me."

Segui described his problem as timing. "I'm in-between. I'm behind the fastball and in front of anything off-speed," he said.

A right hamstring that he pulled, then aggravated, caused Segui to miss more than two weeks of games. He hoped to cram enough at-bats into the final five games to again become comfortable at the plate but was unsuccessful.

"In a way, I feel like I have farther to go than before I aggravated it," Segui said. "I had to go back past Square One, it seems."

McElroy's debut

Until yesterday's start, Chuck McElroy had not pitched since a difficult 3 1/3 -inning exhibition appearance against the New York Mets on March 29. The 10 days did little to hurt his command as McElroy allowed four hits and two walks in five innings before leaving with a 3-2 lead.

"How long had it been since he pitched?" catcher Brook Fordyce said. "Something like 1 1/2 weeks. What Chuck did was impressive. He was aggressive and threw strikes. I don't think you could ask for anything more."

The start was only the third of McElroy's career and marked the beginning of his campaign to stave off a rising tide of minor-league competition for the role.

In his three major-league starts, McElroy has allowed three earned runs in 16 innings. Yesterday's five-inning appearance matched his longest of spring, when he worked three times out of the bullpen and only twice as a starter.

"Brook did a great job of calling pitches and giving location," said McElroy, who became the fifth starter in six games to allow two runs or fewer. "I shook him off one time. He kept me aggressive. If you're going to hit it, here it is. If it's a home run, it's a home run. We've got a three-run lead."

McElroy's only sins were bases-empty home runs surrendered to Ellis Burks and Russell Branyan. He allowed only one ball out of the infield through three innings -- Burks' home run -- then toughed his way through the fourth and fifth innings, stranding runners at third both times.

Around the horn

The Orioles are the 11th-oldest of 30 major-league teams, according to a survey released this weekend. Bill Arnold's Beyond the Score tabulates the Orioles' average age as 30.29 years compared to the graybeard Arizona Diamondbacks (32.11) and the fresh-faced Minnesota Twins (27.50). Both leagues had five teams with more advanced average ages than the Orioles. The tabulation takes into account players on the disabled list, however, which serves to lower the Orioles' age. While Scott Erickson (33), Alan Mills (34) and Albert Belle (34) are slightly above the average, Luis Rivera (22), Luis Matos (22) and Matt Riley (21) are significantly younger. ... Hargrove intends to keep his rotation in order despite today's off day. That means Pat Hentgen will next start Friday's home game against Tampa Bay rather than maintaining a five-day turn, which would have him go Thursday in Boston.

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