Batting slump still dogs Roberts

Second baseman's average has taken nose dive since Hairston was activated

May 27, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The question comes at Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts like a chin-high fastball, no matter how easily it's delivered. So what else can he do except turn his head and wait for it to pass?

Roberts finally reaches the point where he has to take a late swing at it, which is fitting for someone in the throes of another miserable slump.

Is it just coincidence that he began to struggle again after the Orioles activated their other second baseman, Jerry Hairston, from the disabled list? Roberts kept the job he held since spring training, but not his momentum.

After collecting a single in five at-bats last night, Roberts is 6-for-55 since his average stood at .328 on May 8. Hairston returned two days later. Do the math.

"I have no idea what to think about it," Roberts said. "That shouldn't make a difference. Maybe it's just a freak coincidence."

Every season has its ups and downs, but Roberts is bouncing as if made of rubber. He went hitless in his first 16 at-bats before a hot spell lifted his average to .333 on May 5. It has fallen to .259, though his 16 stolen bases rank second in the league.

"It's amazing how this game works," he said. "Who would have ever thought that you'd look up and see [Derek] Jeter at .190? You just try to realize there are still 120 games left."

Time enough to redirect his season or be buried by it.

"You've got to think it's just a run of bad luck," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said. "He's got to get back into his game - taking pitches, getting on base, what he has done when he was successful. At the beginning of the year it seemed like he was not doing that. He was trying to hit his way on all the time.

"You see that with guys who come up on a really hot streak. When you're on that streak all the time, the ball seems like a beach ball and you feel like you can hit anything that's thrown up there. And that's what you start doing, swinging at everything because you think you're going to get hits.

"All of a sudden, you don't get any one game, then two games, then three games, and it magnifies and you're in a slump."

Roberts drove in a ninth-inning run in Tuesday's 11-3 loss to the New York Yankees, two days after Mazzilli sat him against the Anaheim Angels - the only game he has missed.

"You look for anything positive and try to build on it, but it's frustrating," Roberts said.

"I don't ever remember a season like this, where I'm either smoking hot or cold as ice. But it's a game of streaks. People say `This guy's a streaky hitter,' or `That guy's a streaky hitter.' Everybody's a streaky hitter. That's just how it works. But it's where your average is at the end that counts."

Each failed at-bat is magnified when you're the leadoff hitter assigned to set the table rather than waste time at the plate. And when your team tumbles below .500 after losing six games in a row.

"If we were still winning, I wouldn't care," he said. "Well, I'd still care, but it wouldn't hurt as bad."

O's rainouts

Opponent Original Makeup

date date, time

at Boston 4/13 5/31, 1:20 p.m.

at Boston 4/14 7/22, 7:05 p.m.-a

Seattle 4/26 8/3, 1:05 p.m.-a

at Cleveland 5/2 6/14, 1:05 p.m.

at Chi. (AL) 5/12 Made up 5/13

a-part of day-night doubleheader

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