Batista warming up to hot corner with O's

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Plagued by errors, Ripken in '01, he gloves '02 hop

May 01, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

BOSTON - Orioles bench Sam Perlozzo remembers watching Tony Batista play third base last season and seeing plenty of things that made him wince.

So Perlozzo made a pet project out of Batista this spring, and the results have been superb. Batista didn't commit an error in the first 25 games before a second-inning muff last night and is a big reason the Orioles have only 15 errors, among the American League's fewest.

"I don't think we got a true read on him last year," Perlozzo said of Batista. "This guy's a real baseball player."

Orioles vice president for baseball operations Syd Thrift plucked Batista off waivers on June 25, and Batista spent the rest of the season playing in the shadows of the Cal Ripken farewell tour.

When Ripken couldn't play, Batista would fill in at third base, and there were several times when the paying customers booed Batista just for being in the lineup, as if it were his fault.

Batista wound up committing 10 errors in 72 games at third base with the Orioles.

"I never liked his setup real well, and I didn't think he got off the ball as well as he could off the crack of the bat," Perlozzo said. "But it was a tough situation for him, coming in for Cal, and he was a little reluctant to make a change."

When Perlozzo approached Batista this spring, Batista was more receptive. They worked on getting Batista moving forward with each pitch and staying lower to the ground when he moved to his left and right.

Those adjustments have allowed Batista to shine. Besides ranking among the league leaders with 24 RBIs, Batista has made several solid defensive plays.

"He's unorthodox as you can be, but he unloads the ball as quick as I've ever seen, and he's got a strong throwing arm," Perlozzo said. "He made a play in Kansas City, charging a bunt and making a strong, quick throw from way down low. I couldn't teach you how to do that.

"He has that uncanny ability, and that's something you don't mess with."

Batista isn't the only one playing good defense. Shortstop Mike Bordick has just one error, second baseman Jerry Hairston has just two errors and Melvin Mora, who has started at four different positions, has three, including one last night.

Last season, the Orioles committed 125 errors - their highest total since 1986. Even with two errors last night, they're still on pace to make just 93.

Scout's honor

Rodrigo Lopez is 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA, and one National League scout who watched his last two starts said Lopez is no fluke.

"He throws hard enough and has good enough life with his fastball," the scout said. "He has three pitches, and he's using them all pretty well right now. I wouldn't say he's a high-ceiling guy, but he'd be good at the back of any rotation."

Douglass tries again

Sean Douglass will try to put a rough first outing behind him tonight when he faces Boston ace Pedro Martinez.

Douglass walked six batters and gave up three runs in 3 2/3 innings Friday night in Kansas City, a game the Orioles eventually won in 10 innings, 10-5.

"I didn't have curve on the breaking ball, I didn't have a change of speeds on the changeup, and my fastball was 50-50," he said. " ... I know I'm not going to go out there and walk six guys again."

Around the horn

Catcher Geronimo Gil said he felt better yesterday after leaving Monday night's game in the eighth inning with a strained right hamstring and groin. But he wasn't in last night's lineup, and manager Mike Hargrove said he's still day-to-day. "I don't think it's a DL [disabled list injury]," Hargrove said, "but we'll see." With two catchers on the roster, Hargrove said he would turn to Mike Moriarty as the emergency catcher if Brook Fordyce were injured and Gil still wasn't ready to play. ... David Segui returned to the lineup after missing three games with an injured left hand and went 0-for-4.

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