Singleton quickly putting slow start far behind him


Newcomer settles down, hits .405 in 9-game streak

May 20, 2002

The horrible start for Orioles center fielder Chris Singleton keeps getting smaller in his rear- view mirror. Though it won't completely disappear, he's intent on reducing it to little more than a speck.

Singleton continued his rebound yesterday on a cold day at Camden Yards.

Having regained the second spot in the Orioles' lineup, Singleton went 1-for-3 with a walk in a 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He lined a single into right field in the first inning to extend his hitting streak to nine games. During that stretch, he's batting .405 with three doubles, two triples, his first homer and seven runs.

Even his outs are loud.

Singleton flied to deep left-center field in the third inning, with Jason Tyner running down the ball on the warning track. He also put center fielder Randy Winn on full retreat in the fifth, giving false hope to an otherwise quiet crowd.

A notoriously slow starter, Singleton is batting .360 (18-for-50) this month. He staggered out of April at .165, losing his status as an everyday player and his position near the top of the order.

"I'm just more comfortable. Everything's kind of coming together," said Singleton, who has hit safely in 13 of his past 16 games (.356). "Sometimes when you struggle, you don't know what's going to happen. You feel so lost. Everyone worries after a while, but God kept me strong through it."

Hitting coach Terry Crowley sees a player who has gotten "a little smoother in his approach."

"It seems like he was trying to do too much with every at-bat, trying to hit every pitch they threw. He seems to have settled down a little bit now. He's seeing the ball better, and he's consistently taking better swings," Crowley said.

"I think there's a natural tendency with players who switch teams to try to do too much, maybe try to show what you can do."

Those attempts were hindered by the games Singleton missed in spring training because of an Achilles' tendon injury. Along with his teammates, he also dealt with cold weather once the season began, and formidable opposing pitchers like Boston's Pedro Martinez and New York's Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina and David Wells.

"That never helps," Crowley said.

Pain-free day for Johnson

Jason Johnson threw for a second consecutive day without pain in his right hand, and the Orioles soon will determine where he goes on an injury rehab assignment.

The club's two Single-A affiliates in Frederick and Delmarva are home this week, while Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Rochester are on the road. It's not likely the Orioles would send Johnson to the Eastern Shore, making Frederick a strong possibility unless they decide on the minor-league complex in Sarasota, Fla.

"We have a number of options," manager Mike Hargrove said. "He has to throw all his pitches in the bullpen. If he has no pain and if he and [pitching coach] Mark Wiley think his strength is enough, we'll send him out."

The plan calls for Johnson to go three innings in his first rehab start, then expand to five innings before returning to the Orioles.

Johnson followed Saturday's bullpen session with some light throws before yesterday's game. "They told me to take it easy," he said.

Johnson hasn't made a start since breaking his right middle finger while simulating his throwing motion in the bullpen and hitting the ground before an April 25 game at Camden Yards.

"I never would have thought that I'd break my finger doing something to make my mechanics better," he said.

Julio's mechanical glitch

After reviewing tapes of Jorge Julio's latest collapse, when the rookie closer gave up a tie-breaking, two-run homer to Greg Vaughn on Saturday, Hargrove and Wiley say the problems could be related to a glitch in his mechanics.

Julio has surrendered homers in three of his past four appearances. He's blown two saves, and tagged Rick Bauer with Saturday's loss by allowing an inherited runner to score.

"There are some things that we are seeing in his setup that we will adjust," Hargrove said. "From the stretch, he's just not getting his weight back far enough. In baseball terms, he's leaving the rubber too quick, which means not getting his weight back. I don't know that that's the problem, but it certainly would elevate your pitches, and that takes away leverage. It's something to look at.

"He's gone from, 10 days ago, leveraging everything and throwing strikes and having command of all his pitches, to in the last four outings being very inconsistent in the strike zone. And his pitches are up. He didn't do that all spring training. He didn't do it last year when he came up. Hopefully, that's all it is."

Hargrove remains committed to Julio, who had a 0.96 ERA on May 10 before Winn's walk-off, three-run homer at Tropicana Field.

"There's no worse feeling in the world than when things aren't going right," Hargrove said. "You have no idea what's causing it. It's a helpless feeling. But he's a smart kid, and I keep saying he has a good look in his eyes. There's a confidence, and he needs to have that."

Around the horn

Marty Cordova wasn't in yesterday's lineup. Though he went 2-for-4 on Saturday, Cordova has five hits in his last 32 at-bats (.156) after an 8-for-16 stretch. "It's just a day off," Hargrove said. ... Catcher Brook Fordyce was hit by pitches twice.

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