Man on the move, Mora has 8 starts in row at 5 spots

Staying with `hot hand,' Hargrove has utility player in right field as latest role


April 28, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Melvin Mora's uniform meets the standards enforced by Major League Baseball, even as he continues to wear many hats for the Orioles.

A player who was supposed to spend more games on the bench this season while filling a utility role instead keeps invading the lineup -- and in many different roles. After starting in left field, center, shortstop and second base, Mora replaced Jay Gibbons in right against Tampa Bay Devil Rays left-hander Joe Kennedy.

It was just another day at the ballpark for Mora, who ran down a fly ball near the line to end the fourth inning and strand a runner after Tampa Bay scored once.

"We're going with the hot hand," manager Mike Hargrove said.

It still had a little sizzle yesterday. Mora lined a double into left field leading off the third inning, stole third base and scored on a throwing error by catcher Toby Hall.

Mora has started eight consecutive games, leading off on three occasions while Jerry Hairston nursed a sprained ankle. He has gone 10-for-26 with two homers, five RBIs and eight walks, leaving his average at .271.

"I don't know that his value will ever be as high as an everyday player as it is as a utility player," Hargrove said. "He's a very valuable utility player and very well thought of around baseball. It used to be that a utility player was a guy who was just hanging on, but not anymore. They're like a closer or a setup guy. They're very valuable people.

"I think Tony Phillips probably redefined that role. Everybody was looking for the next Tony Phillips for a long time."

To keep changing positions takes more than athleticism and a solid work ethic.

"The mental toughness is probably even more important," Hargrove said.

`Distorted' game

The season is 24 games old for the Orioles, and they've already played Tampa Bay 10 times. And that's only in April.

The Devil Rays return to Camden Yards next month for a three-game series, but the Orioles don't visit Tropicana Field until Aug. 11.

That means more strange bounces and accelerated ground balls on a surface that only looks like grass.

"Baseball's a neat game," Hargrove said. "You play it on turf and everything is distorted."

Sympathy for the Tigers

The Orioles' next opponent is doing a pretty nice impression of them -- circa 1988.

Beginning tomorrow night, the Orioles will attempt to prolong what already has been a miserable season for the Detroit Tigers. Under first-year manager Alan Trammell, the Tigers are 3-20.

The New York Yankees had hit more homers than Detroit had scored runs.

It's almost enough to make the Orioles feel a little better about their 0-21 start 15 years ago.

The Tigers haven't won consecutive games all season. They've been shut out six times. And it figures to get worse.

"This squirrel ain't finding no acorns," said former manager Sparky Anderson.

His sympathy extended to Trammell.

"He has to feel like a guy strapped to the chair with ants and honey on him," Anderson said.

Dmitri Young's three-run homer in the eighth inning of Tuesday's game, Detroit's 18th, were the first RBIs to come out of the cleanup spot. In keeping with the Tigers' ineptitude, the ball actually hit the top of the left-field wall and stayed in the park, but it was incorrectly ruled a home run.

The three pitchers scheduled to face the Orioles in this series are a combined 2-11. Tomorrow's starter, Jeremy Bonderman, 20, pitched at Single-A Lakeland and Modesto last season. Left-hander Mike Maroth, who goes Wednesday, joined Dave Stewart as the only pitchers in major league history with six losses before May 1. It happened to Stewart in 1984.

Detroit pitchers issued 63 walks through 21 games, the third fewest in the American League. The Tigers' rotation led all AL starting staffs with only 29 walks, five fewer than the Yankees'.

Still, opponents come up hacking, obviously having found enough pitches to hit.

Around the horn

Tampa Bay placed pitcher Bobby Seay on the disabled list with left shoulder tendinitis. He's the fourth Devil Ray to go on the DL in a week, joining Travis Lee (right oblique strain), Damian Rolls (fractured right thumb) and Ben Grieve (left thumb infection). ... Tampa Bay second baseman Marlon Anderson's hitting streak ended at 11 games. ... Orioles left-hander Buddy Groom hasn't allowed a run in nine innings. ... Going into the weekend, the Orioles' 3-4-5 hitters were batting .304, second in the AL to the Anaheim Angels' (.340). ... Rodrigo Lopez, who starts Wednesday's game in Detroit, was 14-5 with a 3.14 ERA through Aug. 21. Since then, he's 1-7 with a 6.33 ERA.

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