O's use speed to get in running

Hairston, Singleton take it from top in aggressive makeover

March 30, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - Orioles leadoff batter Jerry Hairston had the green light to steal at his own discretion this spring. So did No. 2 hitter Chris Singleton.

Besides encouraging such theft, manager Mike Hargrove advised all his players to advance a base almost any time they saw a ball thrown in the dirt. He challenged them to race from first to third on a single, to score from first on a double, etc.

With limited home run power, the Orioles know they must run the bases more aggressively than most teams to capitalize on their strengths.

"Going into the year, I think our team speed is better," Hargrove said. "We have better base-stealing speed, in a couple guys, and we have a little more knowledge of how to steal bases.

"But the way I really measure team speed is the ability to go from first to third, and the aggressiveness, and that's better than it was last year."

The Orioles stole 133 bases last season, which tied them with the Detroit Tigers for fifth in the American League.

Besides planting Hairston in the leadoff role, the Orioles traded for Singleton and put an emphasis on speed at the top of their lineup. Hairston stole a career-high 29 bases last season. Singleton stole just 12 for the Chicago White Sox, but he averaged 21 steals the previous two seasons.

"Those two guys at the top are going to be what sets us in motion," said Orioles bench coach Sam Perlozzo.

Perlozzo has briefed Hairston and Singleton on the do's and don'ts of base stealing. A year ago, Hairston was successful in 72.5 percent (29-for-40) of his stolen-base attempts. Singleton's success rate, meanwhile, was just 52.2 percent (12-for-23).

There's a push to be more aggressive, but Hargrove doesn't want these players giving away outs with the heart of the order - David Segui, Jeff Conine and Jay Gibbons - coming to the plate.

"It doesn't matter how fast you are," Hairston said. "You have to know when to steal. You've got to be smart and pick your spots. I think stolen bases are going to be very important, but I don't want to just run crazy.

"If I have 50 stolen bases and get thrown out 40 times, I don't think that's very successful. But if you have 40 stolen bases and get thrown out 10 to 15 times, that's good."

Perlozzo says Hairston's stolen base total will increase this season as long as he continues to reach base like he has this spring. Hairston entered last night's game against the Atlanta Braves with a .403 on-base average, a significant improvement from his .305 mark last season.

"That automatically computes into more stolen bases," Perlozzo said.

Singleton said his stolen base total dropped off last season in part because he never quite got comfortable. White Sox manager Jerry Manuel sat the left-handed-hitting Singleton against most left-handed pitchers, so Singleton started just 106 games.

Manuel also moved Singleton up and down the lineup, while Hargrove plans to entrench him in the No. 2 slot, behind Hairston.

"Last year, it was kind of a weird year for me," Singleton said. "It was kind of a rhythm thing. I didn't get great jumps, and I didn't get into a good rhythm for stealing bases.

"I had different things I was dealing with, being in and out of the lineup at times. And I think the times when I was in there, I tried to force things a little bit instead of getting a good feel and getting a good jump and going."

Compared with spring training, Hargrove will pull the reins on his players a bit for the regular season. Outs become more precious, so they won't advance on every pitch in the dirt or try stretching every single into a double.

"You can't be stupid about it," Perlozzo said. "But in order to figure out what you're going to do, you've got to have the freedom in the spring to go ahead and try some things. So now you know when to take the shot and when not to take the shot."

Beyond Hairston and Singleton, the Orioles have average to below-average speed. But there are other stolen-base threats. Jeff Conine stole 12 bases last year and Mike Bordick had nine in just 58 games.

"Grover's the kind of manager that has shown over the years that if the guy is a decent base runner, he doesn't have to be necessarily fast," Perlozzo said. "If we get an opportunity to steal a base, he's going to give you that opportunity. And guys like Jeff Conine and Mike Bordick have done great jobs at that."

Sun staff writer Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.

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