O's in need of Segui to enliven offense

With veteran healthier, team hopes his presence brings bats back to life


September 07, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE - The Orioles return to Safeco Field tonight hopeful of testing a last-chance theory against the Seattle Mariners, a team with 100 wins and a playoff berth already in the bank.

The theory: David Segui makes them a different offense.

Two weeks after last appearing against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Segui and the Orioles are hopeful his balky left knee will allow him to slip into the No. 3 spot in Mike Hargrove's lineup and reverse one of the most unproductive stretches in franchise history.

The Orioles enter tonight on a 1-11 slide. They have scored 21 runs in their past 12 games, an average of 1.75, while batting .182. Until Wednesday's breakout in a 12-6 loss to the Oakland Athletics, they had homered twice in 11 games and watched second-year outfielder Chris Richard struggle mightily with the load of the No. 3 hole. Segui understands the role and accepts its pressures.

There are few more telling statistics than what the Orioles resemble with and without a player they drafted and developed before trading to the New York Mets in 1994.

When Segui is in their lineup, the Orioles are 38-43, hit .265 and average 4.8 runs, nearly the league average. Without him, they are 17-41, hit .233 and average 3.6 runs. No one need remind Hargrove of the difference.

The lineup "balances out a little better" with Segui's presence, Hargrove said. "You're able to break up your right-handers and have more of a lineup that's tougher for the other manager to make pitching moves against."

Because Segui typically refuses to discuss injuries, he has had little to say this season. After suffering hamstring problems that abbreviated his spring training and caused him to endure a sluggish start, he has wedged productive runs between periods of inactivity. Twice he has landed on the disabled list, and the Orioles' performance ebbed in both instances.

Segui has played only six of the Orioles' past 22 games despite avoiding the disabled list. An inner-ear infection caused vertigo-like symptoms that made him nauseated. For several days, he experienced difficulty simply getting out of bed. When able to play, Segui has been unerringly consistent. The switch-hitter has hit in 12 of 13 games played since exiting the disabled list Aug. 4, batting .345 with 10 extra-base hits and nine RBIs. When he returns, Segui will pick up an 11-game hitting streak.

"It's frustrating, because one day it will start to feel better, then the next day ... " Segui said, finishing the sentence with a wince. "Nobody can really tell what exactly is going on. It hurts. If it didn't, I'd be playing. It's pretty simple."

Hargrove was encouraged that Segui took batting and infield practice Tuesday and Wednesday in Oakland. But even if Segui does return tonight, no one will be able to say for how long.

This season has been an instructive one for the Orioles, who signed Segui as a free agent to a four-year, $28 million contract in December. A career .292 hitter who had batted at least .298 the past four years while with five different teams, Segui has driven in 100 runs only once in his career. The first baseman has played more than 125 games three times in his 11-year career because of a variety of injuries that have necessitated three knee surgeries.

Segui, 35, calls the latest condition the most perplexing. He has received seven cortisone injections into his knee. A series of magnetic resonance imaging exams have proven negative, according to Segui. The only constant has been pain and the tendency for the joint to "lock up." The Orioles initially thought Segui had suffered a slight tear of the medial collateral ligament, but have since softened the diagnosis. Neither the team nor the player confirms arthroscopic surgery is needed, though Segui sounds resigned to the possibility.

"When it's lasted this long with this kind of discomfort, you'd think something is going on," he said.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Seattle Mariners

Site: Safeco Field, Seattle

Time: 10:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Jose Mercedes (7-16, 5.90) vs. Mariners' Paul Abbott (14-3, 4.30)

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