Hairston looks to reclaim O's job

Sarasota next rehab stop

he seeks return in 10 days

Decision at 2nd looms for Mazzilli

With DH, Beattie says both Roberts, Hairston will stay

April 27, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Jerry Hairston isn't ready to concede anything yet.

It has been more than 11 months since he held a steady place in the Orioles' starting lineup, and while Hairston has been out, Brian Roberts has made his own case to be the team's regular second baseman and leadoff hitter.

But with his broken right ring finger now healed, Hairston will resume game activity Thursday at the team's extended spring training facility in Sarasota, Fla., and he hopes to return to the active roster within 10 days.

So, once he's ready, does he get the starting job back?

"That's a tough question," Hairston said yesterday, after the Orioles' game against the Seattle Mariners was postponed until Aug. 3 because of rain. "Obviously, I would like to think so, but if you ask Brian the same question, I think he would think [he should start], too.

"On my end, I felt I've done my job. When I was in there last year, I felt I was one of the better leadoff hitters in the American League, and maybe in baseball, with my on-base percentage. I felt I was doing my job, and that's all I can do. From that standpoint, you really have no control over it."

In 42 games, Hairston hit .287 with a .387 on-base percentage and was leading the American League with 14 stolen bases when he broke a bone in his right foot May 20. He missed 3 1/2 months, and Roberts came up from Triple-A Ottawa to take his place.

Once he returned in September, Hairston shared the role with Roberts, but the foot still bothered him, and he hit .230 with no stolen bases in 16 games before the season ended.

New manager Lee Mazzilli used Hairston as his starter in the first exhibition game, March 4 against the Florida Marlins. Hairston led off that game with a line-drive single against reigning World Series Most Valuable Player Josh Beckett.

Hairston stole second and third base and scored, but on his headfirst slide into third base, he broke the finger.

Once again, Roberts has done a solid job filling the role, offensively and defensively. He is batting .260 with a .318 OBP and four stolen bases, and those numbers still reflect a miserable start in which he went hitless in his first 16 at-bats.

Mazzilli never officially picked a starter between Hairston and Roberts during spring training, and though the injury was disappointing, it did buy the manager time.

"I'm not looking forward to it, but I have to make that decision," Mazzilli said. "It's going to be a tough decision, and it's a decision on what's going to be good for this team."

Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie said the club still has every intention of keeping both Hairston and Roberts, instead of trading one to fill other needs. One could play second and the other could serve as the designated hitter, as the team did during September.

"I don't think right now we're looking for our DH to give us [power]," Beattie said. "David [Segui] has been getting some big hits for us, and the power of our lineup really is the 3-4-5-6 slots.

"If you have a different look for a DH, a guy who has some speed, that works, too."

For now, Beattie said, the plan is simply to get Hairston healthy and back on the roster. The team is sending Hairston to extended spring training so he can get more at-bats. Those are essentially scrimmages, so he could lead off every inning, if he's up to it, before going on an official minor league rehabilitation assignment.

"After a week, we'll see where he's at," Mazzilli said. "Everyone's different. You've got to remember, he hasn't had any spring training. ... He's going to probably need 30 at-bats, at least, probably, but he could be ready [to return to the active roster] in a week's time, as well. We don't know."

Hairston had a pensive look on his face yesterday after the Orioles gave him their plan. He was hoping to come back sooner.

"I think they're more realistic," he said. "As a player, you think you're Superman. You think you're ready in two or three days, but that may not be realistic. ... Obviously, I don't want to come here and negate this team in any way. I want to make sure I'm here and can hit the ground running and contribute."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Seattle Mariners

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Mariners' Gil Meche (0-2, 5.19) vs. Orioles' Matt Riley (1-1, 4.58)

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