Orioles hope moving down in order will lift Palmeiro

Slumping veteran dropped to seventh by Mazzilli

August 24, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, CALIF. — Late Orioles game: Last night's game between the Orioles and Athletics in Oakland, Calif., ended too late to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions or on the Internet at www.baltimoresun.com.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Looking for something to help Rafael Palmeiro shake his prolonged slump, Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli dropped him last night to seventh in the batting order. It was the first time Palmeiro had hit lower than sixth in the lineup since June 20, 1992 with the Texas Rangers.

Palmeiro entered the night with one RBI in his past 15 games and just one home run since the All-Star break. He had two hits in 23 at-bats on the recently completed homestand, as the Orioles went 0-6.

Mazzilli met with Palmeiro before posting the lineup, and told him he hoped the move would allow him to relax a little more at the plate.

"He didn't have any problems with it at all," Mazzilli said. "He understood completely."

Mazzilli started the season with three fixtures in the middle of the order, batting Miguel Tejada third, Palmeiro fourth and Lopez fifth. But with Palmeiro struggling, he has been lowered to fifth, then sixth and now seventh.

Last night, Mazzilli lifted B.J. Surhoff to the No. 6 spot, but it left the Orioles even more vulnerable to late-inning pitching matchups, with three right-handed hitters stacked together (Melvin Mora, Tejada and Lopez), followed by Surhoff, Palmeiro and two more left-handed hitters.

"It's tough when you have someone of [Palmeiro's] stature, and what he's done for his career," Mazzilli said. "You put him [seventh], and he's never been there before. But you also have to look at what's best for the club. B.J.'s swinging the bat well."

Palmeiro emerged from his meeting with Mazzilli in good spirits. He said it wasn't a blow to his confidence getting moved down in the batting order because the at-bats are just as important, up and down the lineup.

"What takes away from my confidence," he said, "is the hard work I'm putting in and not having anything to show for it."

Palmeiro, who turns 40 next month, became the first player in major league history to hit at least 38 home runs in nine consecutive seasons. That streak will undoubtedly be broken this year; he entered last night with 14 homers.

In years past, Palmeiro said, his swing often felt so good he went out of his way not to tinker with it too much. On days when the team didn't take batting practice on the field, he might take his first cuts of the day in the first inning.

But this year, with his mechanics constantly out of whack, Palmeiro has been going to the indoor batting cages constantly.

"I would say I've probably worked harder, or as hard as ever," he said.

Borkowski loses spot

Dave Borkowski was back in the bullpen last night, having officially lost his spot in the starting rotation, and the Orioles were preparing to promote Bruce Chen from Triple-A Ottawa to make tomorrow's start against Oakland.

Mazzilli would not confirm the Chen move and said a decision will be announced after tonight's game. The Orioles pulled Chen from his start at Ottawa after one inning Sunday, and Borkowski pitched 1 1/3 innings in relief.

Chen, a 27-year-old left-hander, was 4-3 with a 3.22 ERA at Ottawa. The former Atlanta Braves pitcher is 20-19 with a 4.59 ERA for his major league career.

Tearful return for Tejada

Miguel Tejada said he was in tears yesterday as he pulled up to Network Associates Coliseum, his home ballpark for his first seven big league seasons.

"I'm always going to have good memories about this place," Tejada said. "When I got here, I got chills."

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