Lofton enjoying his free pass to Chicago

Possible help to Orioles as free agent, he rips them for 10 hits in four games


April 16, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

CHICAGO - The Orioles passed on free-agent center fielder Kenny Lofton this off-season, and he seemed to spend an entire four-game series making them pay.

Lofton came to the plate 16 times for the Chicago White Sox and reached base all but four occasions. He had 10 hits, two walks and scored six runs, helping lead Chicago to three wins.

For Orioles manager Mike Hargrove, it was like watching the same player who sparked his Cleveland Indians teams from 1992 to 1999.

"Big players play big in big games, and Kenny's always been a big-game player," Hargrove said. "When the money's been on the line, Kenny has always shown up to play. And this series, Kenny has shown up to play every day."

That begged the question: Why didn't the Orioles get him to play in Baltimore?

Lofton, 34, didn't sign with the White Sox until Feb. 1. After making $8 million last season with Cleveland, he signed an incentive-laden one-year contract with Chicago that will pay him only up to $2.8 million this year.

Three days before Lofton signed, the Orioles addressed their center-field situation by trading second base prospect Willie Harris for the White Sox's former center fielder, Chris Singleton.

In this four-game series at Comiskey Park, Singleton went 1-for-15. Harris entered yesterday batting .204 for Triple-A Charlotte.

Orioles officials said they looked at Lofton as someone they would only have for one year, since he could parlay a big season into a bigger contract somewhere else. Singleton, 29, won't be eligible for free agency until 2004.

It turns out, a lot of teams passed on Lofton, who hit .261 and stole just 16 bases for Cleveland last season. He spent time on the disabled list with a strained abdominal muscle and was still recovering from rotator cuff surgery, limiting him to 91 games.

This season, Lofton is batting .426 and ranks second in the American League with seven stolen bases.

He has scored at least one run in 11 straight games.

"He's healthy this year," Hargrove said. "That's one thing, he's healthy. When Kenny's on his game, he's as good as there is. Even when Kenny's not on his game, he's pretty good. He's a tremendous athlete. He knows himself and what he can do pretty well.

"When Kenny gets in trouble is when he starts trying to yank everything. He's strong enough to hit home runs, he really is, but Kenny's game is using the whole field, getting on base, stealing and scoring runs. And when Kenny's in that mode, Kenny's as dangerous a player offensively and defensively as ever played the game."

Singleton's woes

The Orioles were counting on Singleton to be a productive No. 2 hitter, but so far this season he is batting .111.

"I think I probably pressed earlier. Now, I'm just bad," Singleton said. "It's just not working. I feel like I'm getting close, and then I have a day like [yesterday] where I feel terrible. So it's just been real inconsistent."

Singleton said he would understand if Hargrove moves him down in the lineup.

"I don't really care so much about No. 2 right now. You want to win games, and you realize right now I'm not getting it done. That's obvious."

Cordova examined

Four days after coming off the DL from a strained quadriceps muscle, Marty Cordova missed yesterday's game and returned to Baltimore to have his right hip examined.

Cordova, who signed a three-year, $9.1 million deal this off-season, has had some inflammation in the hip, and the Orioles want it checked out. But they expect him to be in New York tonight.

"His leg's bothering him a little bit," Hargrove said. "And we decided today was a good day to give him a day off."

Around the horn

Hargrove also moved David Segui back to designated hitter to give Segui's knees a rest after playing him at first base for four straight games. ... Second baseman Jerry Hairston, who missed the Chicago series with a strained left groin, should be ready to play tonight. ... Mike Moriarty made his first major-league start, replacing Mike Bordick at shortstop. Bordick is hitting just .143, but Hargrove had been planning to spell him occasionally until he regains strength in his surgically repaired right shoulder. "It's nothing out of the ordinary," Hargrove said. "It's something I had planned on doing periodically." Moriarty got his first career hit on an infield single in the third inning and finished the game 2-for-3.

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