Fordyce out to dump slump


O's catcher concedes he has been pressing in attempt to regain timing


May 19, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

For Orioles catcher Brook Fordyce, getting more hits and raising his average to a respectable figure is all in the timing. And right now, he's searching for it.

Fordyce remained in the lineup last night against Minnesota left-hander Eric Milton, but he sank to the bottom for only the third time this season. Maybe it was a .188 average weighing him down.

Though he was hitting .278 in his past 10 games before last night, Fordyce had only two hits in his past 16 at-bats since going 3-for-4 on May 12. The comfort zone that he had found disappeared again, and Fordyce conceded yesterday that he has been pressing at times while trying to end his slump.

"My timing is definitely a little off," said Fordyce, who went 1-for-4 last night and is now batting .190. "Some days I can get it and other days I'm trying too hard. It's basically making me swing early in the count at pitches that are balls, and unfortunately for me, I'm not fouling them off. I'm putting them in play or totally missing them."

"Obviously I'm not feeling comfortable up there as much as I'd like. Some days I feel great, some days I don't. That's what I'm battling now. I'll feel comfortable and go 3-for-4, and the next day I'll try too hard to go another 3-for-4."

The Orioles have presented Fordyce with his first chance to be the No. 1 catcher after acquiring him from the Chicago White Sox last July for Charles Johnson. He has never gotten 350 at-bats in a season. After 101 this year, his total going into last night's game, Fordyce had collected only 19 hits -- the same number as backup Greg Myers, with 51 at-bats.

Fordyce's only home run came on April 28 in Minnesota, the same night his first RBIs finally arrived.

"I got my 100 at-bats in, so hopefully things start turning around now," he said. "But it's been frustrating because I know I'm better than this. I'm doing extra work and all that, but the best thing is to not worry about it and concentrate on the pitching staff, which is what I'm trying to do. My hitting's going to come around. I've just got to keep battling and not let it become a mental thing.

"I've got to bear down a little harder and put more focus and concentration on each pitch in my at-bats. Even if I don't feel comfortable, I have to just relax and not press. If I don't get a hit and I know I'm down to my last at-bat in a game, I feel a little more tense. But I know I'm going to get better."

He looked better in the third inning last night when he lined a single into left field.

"I know I can hit," he said. "This is one of the worst struggles I've ever had in my career. I've just got to keep battling. I have confidence and I know it's going to come, and yet I'm trying to find it as quick as possible.

"You've got to keep plugging. Everybody's gotten out of their slump before I have. Everybody was struggling for a period, and they're picking it up. I had a pretty good two weeks there, but the last few days I haven't felt comfortable. Hopefully I can turn it around and help my teammates. I don't want to be an embarrassment to them."

Roberts tries to regain form

Willis Roberts placed the usual phone call to his brother in the Dominican Republic after Thursday's start, just as he does before each game he pitches. Roberts senses there has been a change in his mechanics since he began the season 4-0 with a 1.95 ERA. His conversation with Jorge, who watched the game via satellite, confirmed it.

"He knows me. He's been working with me for a long time. And he said, `You're doing something different.' "

Roberts continues to watch video of his most recent starts, hoping for a clue. He has been working with pitching coach Mark Wiley while trying to regain the form that allowed him to dominate hitters in April and become a steal for an organization that signed him as a minor-league free agent over the winter.

"I don't know what's happened," he said. "I don't want to throw like that. It's no good."

His four-seam fastball usually tops out at 95 mph, but he had trouble reaching 92 on the radar gun during Thursday's 7-5 loss to the Detroit Tigers, when he allowed six earned runs in six innings.

"I felt good. I got a couple pitches up, but I threw the ball good. My arm feels good," he said.

Wiley and manager Mike Hargrove have spoken to Roberts about maintaining his composure and exhibiting more control, which he failed to do in a previous start in New York. Roberts made visible his frustration with the plate umpire in the first inning, when the Yankees scored five runs.

"I'm being a little bit careful with the umpires right now," Roberts said. "I'm trying to change, but it's hard."

Gibbons' wrist problems

Hargrove's bench was stacked with left-handed hitters, including rookie Jay Gibbons, who has been getting treatment for tendinitis in his left wrist.

Gibbons is available to hit, but he has been bothered by the condition for about two weeks.

"I also had it a little bit last year," he said. "It's from overswinging and working out. But it's nothing I can't play through."

He awakens each morning with soreness in the wrist, which is alleviated once he reaches the trainer's room. "Once I get it loose, it's fine," he said.

Though healthy enough to play, Gibbon has seen his at-bats limited by Hargrove to ensure the injury doesn't worsen.

Around the horn

Jerry Hairston was hit near the left eye by a bad-hop grounder during infield drills, which caused swelling, but he remained in the lineup. ... Jeff Conine's grand slam last night was the fifth of his career. ... Fans can meet Orioles catcher Fernando Lunar next Friday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum.

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