O's Cordova better by foot this year

Healthy, he wants to forget injury, September slump

March 09, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Trying to figure out the reasons for Marty Cordova's fade last season brings Orioles manager Mike Hargrove to two conclusions: The outfielder was pressing, a natural reaction to the horrendous team-wide slump that produced 32 losses in the last 36 games, and a painful right foot limited his effectiveness at the plate and in the field.

"I'd like to believe most of it was the foot," Hargrove said. "It's more comforting."

If that's true, Hargrove should be pretty relaxed this spring. Cordova reported to camp in good health, an extended period of rest and a modified training schedule healing the plantar fasciitis in his foot. He's been receiving treatment for a sore right calf after being hit by a pitch during Wednesday's game, but he started in left field yesterday and collected his first hit.

Cordova ended his day 1-for-3. He was hitless in seven at-bats this spring before lining a single off the Minnesota Twins' Rick Reed in the second inning.

Asked on Friday about the calf, Cordova said, "It's fine." Last season, that would have qualified as a filibuster. He rarely spoke to the media, preferring to keep his life private and the writers who cover the team at a safe distance. Though still a quiet figure in the clubhouse, he's trying to be more accessible.

"We'll see how it goes this year," he said.

"I don't sit around and talk every day and let you know how my life's doing and what I think I can do today to help the team win. I'm just not a real talkative person. I try to do my job. I want to play as well as I can and earn the respect of my peers, and I want to do well for my family. But I just don't really like attention."

He first got noticed as an Oriole on Dec. 4, 2001, after accepting former vice president Syd Thrift's three-year, $9.1 million offer. Cordova ended the season with a .253 average, 48 points below his total the previous summer with the Cleveland Indians, and an inflamed tissue in his foot that often kept him out of left field.

"It started bothering me about the second month," he said. "I got a couple cortisone shots and it would feel better for a little while, then it got to where I could hardly run at all. But I don't blame my season ending badly on my foot. You've got to do better than that. And my numbers over the last month of the season were pretty bad."

Cordova batted .159 over his last 27 games, and only one of his 18 homers came after Aug. 19.

"I think my season kind of went the same way everybody's did - pretty good for the first three-fourths, and then absolutely horrible for the last fourth," he said. "It's unfortunate because I was on the way to having a pretty good year. I was going to hit 25 home runs, drive in 80 or 90 runs. But a lot of our key players got hurt and we were trying to do too much."

"He just fell into the same pattern as everyone else," said third base coach Tom Trebelhorn. "It became contagious. It's hard to drive people in when nobody's on base.

"Marty's year overall was a typical Marty year. He'll hit around 20 home runs, drive in around 80 runs. I don't think he was that far off what we think Marty can do. But I think he's a .275, .280 hitter."

Cordova began the season on the disabled list with a strained right quadriceps muscle, but the foot was a recurring issue for the club. He had plantar fasciitis in his left foot in 1997, two seasons after being named the American League's Rookie of the Year, which put him on the disabled list for six weeks.

"I'm hoping that it's gone away now," he said. "It happens to millions of people. It's nothing that I did, and it's not directly related to an athlete. It's a very big problem in the country and it's very hard to get rid of. A lot of recreational runners get it. It's just something that takes forever to go away."

Instead of doing the usual running this winter, Cordova rode a stationary bike to get in shape and reduce the pounding on his foot. "I tried to get it back to where it's not bothering me," he said. "We'll see how it goes."

Cordova also must wait to see how the left-field situation plays out. The Orioles signed B.J. Surhoff to a minor-league contract one day before pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, and he could get the majority of at-bats as the left-handed hitter in a platoon arrangement if his surgically repaired knee allows it.

"I don't think I've ever been in a spring training where I wasn't trying for a job," said Cordova, who batted .442 with 11 RBIs to make the Indians. "If they put B.J. out there and he plays better, it's no big deal. I don't want to play if there's somebody better than me sitting on the bench. I wish B.J. well. He doesn't want me to strike out, and I don't want him to strike out.

"I feel like I'm good enough to play, good enough to help this team win. If I can go out there and produce, I'll play. It's been that way my whole career. In Cleveland, I had no chance to make that team, but I played well and they had to find a spot for me. It's not a situation I've never been in before, and it really doesn't bother me."

Only this time, Cordova has the security of two remaining years on his contract. No teams have inquired about Cordova's availability because of his salary. The Orioles have included him in a few proposed trade packages, but he's likely to remain on the 25-man roster.

"I'd like to stay here. I like the guys, I like the town," he said. "I'd love to play every day, but whether that works out depends on me. If I do everything I'm capable of doing, I'll play a lot. If I don't, then things might change. But I'm not even going to worry about that situation. I'm just going to try to do my best and see how things go."

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