Puzzle pieces fit for Orioles

Unsung team heads north with positive answers to questions

Segui: `It's really worked'

Hairston, Erickson erase doubts along with 18-7 spring mark

March 27, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - They came here with questions about their leadoff hitter, questions about their pitching ace and questions about their identity.

The Orioles will start making their way north today with answers to those questions and several more.

They'll head to Viera for two exhibition games with the Florida Marlins, feeling second baseman Jerry Hairston is suited for the leadoff role because his on-base average this spring is .425.

They'll move on from Viera to Atlanta for Friday's game against the Braves, knowing staff ace Scott Erickson has looked like his old self. Nearly 20 months removed from Tommy John surgery to replace a ligament in his elbow, Erickson entered the week leading the American League with 24 2/3 innings pitched.

Then, they'll play their final exhibition game - Saturday against the Cincinnati Reds in Louisville, Ky. - knowing this is a team that could succeed in the post-Cal Ripken era, even after losing 98 games last season. They have won 16 of their past 18 games and lead the AL with an 18-7-1 record.

"Coming in after last year, I didn't think too highly of us," Orioles designated hitter David Segui said. "I thought we stunk. They added some pieces to the puzzle, and with the philosophy they're pushing - being aggressive, taking it to the other team - it's really worked."

Spring training success often has little to do with regular-season success, but sometimes there's a correlation. The Oakland Athletics had the AL's best spring record the previous two seasons and made the playoffs both times. But in 1999, Kansas City led the league with a 22-9 spring record and went on to finish fourth in the AL Central.

In this string of four consecutive losing seasons for the Orioles, their spring records in that span have added up to 61-52-2. A year ago, they went 18-13 and still finished with their worst regular-season record (63-98) since 1988.

"We won a lot of games last year in spring training, but a lot of those wins came because the other team gave us those games," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "This year, we've won because we pitched well and played good defense."

The Orioles have seen shortstop Mike Bordick regain most of the strength in his surgically repaired right shoulder, solidifying an infield defense that was so porous without him a year ago.

They've seen newly acquired center fielder Chris Singleton run down balls in the gaps, giving them confidence their defense will be much improved as long as he and Bordick stay healthy. Singleton has been out since March 15 with a strained right Achilles' tendon but could return to the lineup as early as tomorrow.

They've seen flashbacks to last season, as Segui aggravated the same Achilles' injury as Singleton on the same night. After having Segui for just 82 games a year ago, the Orioles continue to hold their breath about his durability.

But he returned to the lineup yesterday and had two hits in three at-bats in the team's 10-5 victory over the Montreal Expos.

Even when the injuries have come, the Orioles have looked a little less flustered. Some of the young players they rushed to the big leagues last season - Larry Bigbie, Rick Bauer, Sean Douglass and Brian Roberts - look more ready in case the same problems arise.

"We have a lot better talent than I thought we had," Segui said. "We have a pretty good lineup and a lot of arms that I think are surprising some people. We have a lot of young kids who can throw the ball. Nobody really knows who they are yet, but in a year or two, they'll be common names."

The Orioles have seen owner Peter Angelos make a commitment to the future, locking up two thirtysomethings, Buddy Groom and Jeff Conine, to two-year contract extensions. Groom is considered the bullpen leader, and Conine's position in Ripken's old clubhouse locker didn't just happen by coincidence.

Quietly, players say there is an overall unity in the clubhouse that didn't exist last year. This group may be relatively anonymous, but at least they all get along.

Angelos went on record saying he expects at least a .500 season, and not a single player blinked.

"I think this has been the best spring I've seen in a long time," Bordick said. "I think every drill that we did, guys were into it, getting it done the right way. And it showed up in the games. Good things were happening."

Now, it's just a matter of taking those good things north.

Springboard?

As spring training winds down, the Orioles have the best exhibition record (18-7) in the American League. A look at how the top teams in spring training over the previous five seasons have fared in the regular season:

American League

Yr, Team ......... Spring ............ Reg. ........ Fin.

'01, Oak. .......... 22-10 .......... 102-60 ...... *2nd

'00, Oak. .......... 20-11 ............ 91-70 ....... 1st

'99, K.C. ............ 22-9 ............ 64-97 ....... 4th

'98, Bos. ............ 20-8 ............ 92-70 ....... *2nd

'97, N.Y. ............ 20-11 .......... 96-66 ........ 1st

National League

'01, N.Y. ........... 18-10 ........... 82-80 ......... 3rd

'00, Hou. .......... 20-11 ........... 72-90 ......... 4th

'99, L.A. ............ 21-9 ............ 77-85 .......... 3rd

'98, S.D. ........... 19-10 ........... 98-64 .......... 1st

'97, Fla. ............. 26-5 ............ 92-70 .......... *2nd

*-Wild card

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.