Things looking peachy for Georgia slugger

His elbow on the mend, '98 first-round pick Elder showing batting prowess

Baseball

April 30, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

His .083 average last April the lowest of all minor-leaguers, Rick Elder was shut down after 14 games of misery.

On June 8, the slugger from Marietta, Ga., underwent "Tommy John surgery" on his left elbow, as Dr. James Andrews removed bone chips that had bothered Elder for almost two seasons.

The difference has been eye-catching. Elder has returned this April to become one of the hottest commodities in the Orioles' minor-league system and is beginning to justify his first-round selection by the Orioles in the 1998 draft.

In his first 21 games, the 26th overall pick hit a robust .395 with six doubles, seven home runs, 22 runs scored and 20 RBIs for he Delmarva Shorebirds and was chosen the South Atlantic League Hitter of the Week for April 13-19.

The first baseman is among the league leaders in a number of categories and is first in several: hitting, home runs, RBIs, runs, on-base percentage and slugging. He is a prime candidate for promotion. .

"I'm healthy, mentally and physically, and really wanted to get off to a good start," said Elder, 6 feet 6 and 225 pounds. "And I worked hard on my hitting in the off-season. The numbers speak for themselves."

A member of the 1996 Babe Ruth World Series champions from East Cobb, Ga., Elder knocked in 119 runs and hit 22 homers in 86 games while batting over .500.

But he played outfield then and "it took me a while to learn how to field a ground ball. I had never even seen first base. But the change seems to be working very well."

His elbow bothered him for two years, although in 1999 he registered good numbers in rookie ball (10 homers, 40 RBI in 46 games at Bluefield).

"I did it in the second game at Bluefield. The pitcher made a pickoff throw and something popped in my elbow. It just hurt," he said. "Nobody really knew what the problem was. The elbow felt weird and when I'd swing it would hurt. I didn't say anything about it. I tried to rehab it, but it didn't work."

The surgery has remedied that and now Elder believes he "has his best opportunity from a health standpoint to make the big leagues. It's a good feeling to know that they [the Orioles] are actually looking at us now ... are trying to give us minor-leaguers a chance. I'd want to make it with the team that drafted me if I could."

His chances are improving rapidly.

Triple-A Rochester

In 40 years in baseball, manager Andy Etchebarren had never seen what occurred last week when the first nine Red Wings to bat scored against Ottawa. The score was 8-0 before an out was recorded and the ninth run scored on the first out. Rochester won, 11-3. ... Former Orioles manager Joe Altobelli is working with first baseman Calvin Pickering on his defense. A notoriously slow starter at the plate, Pickering was sixth in the International League with a .344 batting average and had three home runs, half of his 2000 total. He is being brought along slowly defensively after undergoing left quadriceps surgery during the winter. ... The team has received excellent starting pitching and has four shutouts. Josh Towers, called up this weekend to the Orioles, had a 2-0 record, 2.25 ERA and only five walks in 28 innings. Jay Spurgeon, John Parrish, Sean Douglass and Calvin Maduro complete the rotation. Conversely, the bullpen has been a problem, with no legitimate closer surfacing. ... The Red Wings lead the league in batting average but produced just 12 home runs in 19 games. ... Eugene Kingsale, who had an eight-game hitting streak, is second in the league with 18 runs. ... Rochester had an unusual schedule with three off days in five days, starting with Easter Sunday.

Double-A Bowie

Franky Figueroa's altered batting stroke is paying rewards. A power hitter with a propensity to strike out (100-plus the past three seasons), Figueroa is now making contact and going to right field. As a result, he is ninth in the Eastern League in batting. ... Third baseman Jose Leon was the Eastern League Player of the Week (.550 batting average with three doubles and two homers in six games). He is second in the league with 17 RBIs. ... Darnell McDonald is hitting .500 on weekends and .143 on weekdays. ... Bowie had eight consecutive quality starts and 10 out of 11. Rick Bauer has five straight quality starts but is 0-5 because his teammates are hitting .179 when he pitches, .290 when anyone else does. ... Miguel Felix has been the surprise of the pitching staff with a 2-0 record and 2.74 ERA. ... Ken Sims did not allow a run in eight straight relief innings. ... Aaron Rakers has taken over the closer's role since Jorge Julio was promoted to the Orioles.

Single-A Frederick

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