Hairston's return may line up deal

ORIOLES FOCUS

Baseball

A Look Inside

May 16, 2004|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Orioles infielder Jerry Hairston made his major league debut in the outfield last night, which looked - at first glance - like an unorthodox solution to the club's second base dilemma.

Hairston had never played an inning in the outfield at any professional level. He supplanted an everyday outfielder at a time when the Orioles already have a player in training at third base.

But it's not what you think. Manager Lee Mazzilli insisted Friday that the move was made to give the Orioles an extra right-handed bat against Angels left-hander Jarrod Washburn, not to satisfy Hairston's desire to get back into the starting lineup any way he can.

"I'm not going to put someone at any position during the regular season just to get him out there," Mazzilli said.

That's the right answer, of course. Mazzilli is attempting to create an environment where winning is Job One, so every move he makes has got to be about winning and reinforcing the team concept.

Hairston volunteered to go to the outfield because he is hungry to play and Brian Roberts hasn't given an inch at second base. Nothing wrong with that. Mazzilli accepted the offer because Hairston gives him an added strategic dimension at the back end of the lineup.

It was fair to wonder, however, because it is very much in the long-term interest of the club to get Hairston back on the field and re-establish him as a frontline player before seriously considering any midseason trade scenarios.

Barring another injury to either player, it seems inevitable that the club will deal either Hairston or Roberts by the July 31 deadline for completing trades without waivers, but both need to play to put Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan in the optimum position to exploit their value.

Certainly, Mazzilli is aware of that, but he said that he has not been instructed to manufacture playing time for Hairston.

"They wouldn't do that," Mazzilli said. "That's the good thing about working for first-class people."

Times certainly have changed. Former baseball operations chief Syd Thrift had no qualms about suggesting lineup options to former manager Mike Hargrove, which helped create the organizational mess that Beattie and Flanagan were brought in to clean up.

Mazzilli isn't ready to predict how much Hairston will play in the outfield. Since he was activated from the disabled list on Tuesday, he has started two games as the designated hitter and one at second base. That made his start in the outfield last night his fourth start in five games without seriously cutting into anyone else's playing time.

If he is able to hold his own in the outfield, it presumably would increase his trade value, though the only way for the Orioles to get full value would be from a team in need of a full-time second baseman.

So far, there has been no sense of urgency on the part of the Orioles to take advantage of their second base surplus, but that could change if the pitching situation continues to deteriorate.

Sidney Ponson is in a horrible slump and No. 3 starter Kurt Ainsworth got hammered again on Friday night, which could prompt the front office to consider a deal for a middle-rotation guy who can eat up innings.

If that happens sooner rather than later, it might be Roberts who finds himself in a new uniform, since he doesn't need more playing time to prove that he is healthy.

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