Anderson ties woes into triple `not'

Oriole says slow start isn't due to his health, age or lack of `armor'

May 23, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Orioles outfielder Brady Anderson can't give a reason for the slowest offensive start of his career. For now, the best he can do is say what isn't responsible.

It isn't health. His legs haven't felt this good in years.

It isn't age. Anderson remains buffed at a decidedly "young" 37.

And it isn't his partial discarding of the protective "armor" that has covered his right elbow while hitting since the second half of 1996.

Anderson can't say why he has discarded the device "about half the time" this season except to admit that he became irritated by Major League Baseball's carping against body armor during its crusade to correct a perceived imbalance between pitchers and hitters.

"It's not like the thing enables you to hit better while you're wearing it," he said before last night's rainout. "It allows you to hit better after you've been hit there. I think I've probably been hit on it four times in the past four years. And it's allowed me to play the next day."

A profound season-long slump that has dragged his batting average to .180 has done otherwise. Having already experienced a position switch this season, he faces the possibility of platooning for the first time since the formative part of his career.

Anderson and Delino DeShields have sat against left-handed pitching in recent games. Adding to Anderson's perplexing start, he is actually hitting almost twice as much against left-handers (.292) as right-handers (.159). Manager Mike Hargrove has used second baseman Jerry Hairston as his leadoff hitter in Anderson's absence. Hargrove said yesterday Anderson will "pretty much" retain his leadoff role when in the lineup.

Adding to the mystery is a solid spring in which Anderson batted .284 with eight extra-base hits and 17 runs and left camp injury-free for the first time in years.

"It's hard to put your finger on what exactly's wrong, if anything," said hitting coach Terry Crowley. "You can compare films of a line drive or a pop-up and the difference is microscopic. In this situation, you're talking about a healthy, fit ballplayer. There's nothing wrong with him physically. He has a great track record and we have a lot of hits to look forward to. He will get going. There's no doubt in my mind."

Anderson says he has felt comfortable only for a seven- to 10-day period earlier this month. A number of observers both inside and outside the organization believe Anderson's decreased power and inconsistency can be explained by poor balance at the plate. Crowley passes no such judgment.

"The whole team looked good this spring," Crowley said. "But as a team, we had some difficulty adjusting to the strike zone early. We had horrendous weather that kept us from getting on the field to hit. Consequently, a lot of guys, not only Brady, fell into holes."

No one needs an excavation crew more than the Orioles' leadoff man who has homered twice and has eight RBIs against Tampa Bay but is homerless and has only two RBIs in 101 other at-bats.

Anderson also enters today's game against Anaheim without an RBI in the past 11 games in which he has batted, a span of 48 at-bats.

Two seasons ago, Anderson led American League leadoff men with a .404 on-base average and enjoyed a .477 slugging percentage, second during his 13-year career to a monster 1996 season in which he hit 50 home runs. Anderson currently ranks last in the AL in slugging with a .253 percentage, and his .281 on-base average stands as the league's fifth-lowest. Anderson's combined .534 on-base/slugging percentage is almost 33 percent below his .796 career figure.

Anderson does has some impressive company. Oakland outfielder Johnny Damon -- considered one of the game's most attractive pending free agents -- has the league's worst on-base average (.267), and Toronto's All-Star third baseman, Tony Batista (.271), is in a similar struggle.

Unlike Damon and Batista, Anderson carries the convenient target of age. He turned 37 in January and was the league's oldest center fielder until being moved to a flanking position this spring.

At least his wheels haven't come off. Anderson stole his 300th base April 16 and has yet to ground into a double play, preserving his status as the most difficult active player to double up (one per 107.6 at-bats).

As a left fielder, Anderson's 10th-inning run, catch and throw to stop Cleveland's Ellis Burks at the plate in an April 7 win remains one of the season's most stirring defensive plays. Sunday's daring game-winning play against Minnesota -- in which he tagged as a pinch runner from third base on a pop behind second -- verified his claim to being physically sound.

Anderson still crowds the plate and is still willing to take a ball in the back for a free base. But more armor isn't the answer.

"It's probably easier to swing without it," he said, adding, "I'm still waiting."

Orioles today

Opponent: Anaheim Angels

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 3:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: No TV/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Angels' Scott Schoeneweis (3-2, 3.04) vs. O's Willis Roberts (4-3, 5.15)

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