Questions fly about Hairston's fly balls


Leadoff man uppercuts, but Hargrove is patient

April 05, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The grand experiment that has defined Orioles second baseman Jerry Hairston this spring still keeps him under a microscope.

Any time he lifts a ball into the air, it seems to contradict his duties as the Orioles' newest leadoff hitter. It's as though he's committed a sin of the highest order, and there's no place higher that he can go in this order.

Out to prove he could alter his approach at the plate, Hairston batted .315 this spring and posted a .400 on-base percentage. Good enough to stay on top of the lineup. Not good enough to avoid the continued scrutiny.

It intensified on Opening Day after Hairston flied out in his first two trips against New York Yankees ace Roger Clemens. Had he reverted to his previous ways? Had he again become infatuated with reaching the seats instead of reaching base?

He kept the ball on the ground his next three at-bats, getting a bunt single during the Orioles' five-run fourth inning and bouncing out twice. But he flied out for the cycle on Wednesday, making outs in left, center (twice) and right field while going 0-for-4.

Taking the Orioles' first cuts last night against former teammate Mike Mussina, Hairston attacked the second pitch and flied to left. For anyone scoring at home - and the Orioles hadn't since Monday - that was seven fly balls in 10 at-bats.

"It's early," manager Mike Hargrove said before the game. "The thing you need to look at, and I look at more so than the way he's making his outs, is how he works the pitcher, how many good hitter's counts he gets into. And he's still getting into good hitter's counts.

"It's still early on the fly ball issue. It's certainly nothing that we've really noticed."

As he paused, a smile crept across Hargrove's face. It's all about timing, whether hitting a baseball or joking with reporters. Hargrove always has been good at doing both.

"I'll wait another day or so."

Leading off the third inning, Hairston grounded a single into right field for the last hit off Mussina until David Segui's single to open the sixth. Hairston also grounded to third base and popped up a 3-1 pitch in the Orioles' 4-1 loss, leaving his average at .154 for the season's first series.

This is the number that should matter most, but it's not enough that Hairston makes an out. It's how he's making them that keeps him under the microscope.

Other batters stand at home plate. Hairston gets a petri dish.

"Should I count his flyouts in spring training?" Hargrove asked. "Then I'm not counting them now, either."

Split vote is positive

Growing more comfortable with a new pitch, Jason Johnson estimated that he threw nine or 10 split-fingered fastballs during Wednesday's 1-0 loss.

Johnson began toying with the splitter in the second half of the season, after pitching coach Mark Wiley suggested that he try it. Wiley believed that Johnson's delivery and arm action were conducive to learning it, and Johnson copied the grips of Willis Roberts and former Oriole Mike Trombley.

Johnson held the Yankees to one run - a homer by Robin Ventura on a changeup - in 7 2/3 innings.

"I threw it a pretty good number of times," he said. "Last night it felt better than any other time I've ever thrown it."

Around the horn

Chris Brock made his Orioles debut, following Sidney Ponson with two shutout innings. ...Catcher Brook Fordyce should receive his first start this weekend.

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