Leon powers O's by Twins

With a month to prove himself, his 2-run homer backs Cabrera effort, 4-1

1st baseman shines in field, too

`I'll try to put up numbers and see what happens'

September 07, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The standings might indicate that the Orioles have little to play for over the next four weeks except to maintain their hold on third place and to perform as spoilers against teams whose seasons won't end after 162 games. But the vision has to be broader. It has to reach into next year.

That's where it might find Jose Leon, who's out of minor league options and trying to make an impression before club officials decide his fate.

Already part of the 2005 rotation, Daniel Cabrera won his second consecutive start yesterday by pitching into the eighth inning, and Leon made it easier with a two-run homer that completed the Orioles' 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins before 36,600 at Camden Yards.

Since losing 12 in a row, the Orioles (64-72) have won seven of their past eight and refuse to be an easy mark against teams in first place or battling for the wild card. They outscored the New York Yankees 13-5 while winning twice in the three-game series, and Cabrera held the Twins to one run and three hits in 7 1/3 innings.

"I don't just want to get close to .500," manager Lee Mazzilli said. "I want to get above it."

Leon would like to do more of the lifting. Optioned three times to Triple-A Ottawa this season, he needed two hits to raise his average to .170 in 47 at-bats. His second home run came off Terry Mulholland in the sixth inning while the Orioles were clinging to a 2-1 lead.

"I've just got to be ready every opportunity," he said. "Anytime I'm in the lineup I'm going to play hard and try to help the team. I'm not feeling any pressure. I go outside, do my 100 percent and have fun. I'll try to put up numbers and see what happens for next year."

The Twins had two runners thrown out at the plate in the second inning to keep the game scoreless and lessen the impact of two Orioles errors.

Playing first base, Leon made a diving stop of Terry Tiffee's grounder and fired to catcher Javy Lopez, who tagged Justin Morneau. And right fielder B.J. Surhoff caught Henry Blanco's fly ball for the second out and completed a double play by cutting down Lew Ford.

"I think that first play [Leon] made kind of set the tone for the game," Mazzilli said. "He really shocked me by going home. It was a great play."

Leon, 27, could make the majority of starts at first base against left-handers during the last four weeks after David Segui needed another cortisone injection in his left knee yesterday.

Segui, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on May 11, responded favorably after serving as the designated hitter Wednesday. But he's experiencing a sensation he describes as a "hot spot" beneath the kneecap after playing nine innings in the field Saturday for the first time since April 24.

Mazzilli wanted to use the switch-hitting Segui against most left-handers, but he wasn't in the lineup yesterday against Mulholland. Though the knee didn't swell much, the discomfort caused Segui to walk with a slight limp.

Team physician Dr. Charles Silberstein examined Segui at Camden Yards and administered a numbing agent before giving him a cortisone shot. Segui said he probably could have hit yesterday.

"He's OK," Mazzilli said. "He's just a little stiff today. You've just got to pick your spots."

Leon is trying to take advantage of his.

"I think he could be a right-handed bat against left-handers who could help," Mazzilli said. "We've been looking for that, so we'll see what he can do."

Mostly a third baseman in his professional career, Leon made another outstanding play in the sixth after Morneau's grounder up the line deflected off the bag and popped into the air. Leon jumped to make the grab in foul territory and threw to Cabrera covering as he backpedaled toward the tarp.

Completing his triple crown of defensive gems, Leon snatched a hard grounder near the line by Jacque Jones in the eighth, stepped on the bag and threw to second to get Jason Kubel in a rundown.

"If you can play third base, you can play first," Brian Roberts said. "It doesn't make it easy, but you can do it."

Leon also contributed a double in the second inning, but the Orioles didn't score until the fifth, with Melvin Mora's two-run single giving them a 2-1 lead.

Tim Raines singled to lead off the inning, and Roberts stroked his 44th double, the third-most in club history. (He doubled in the eighth inning, too.) One out later, Mora lined a single into left field for his second hit of the day. He also walked, and finished with his average at .346.

Cabrera joined Rodrigo Lopez as 11-game winners on the staff. Lopez was in the bullpen on Opening Day. Cabrera was making the jump to Double-A.

A stretch where Cabrera posted one win in seven starts coincided with an apparent loss of confidence, but he's permitted one run and five hits over 13 2/3 innings in victories over Tampa Bay and Minnesota.

Mazzilli noted how Cabrera lost some of his swagger. And now?

"I see it back," Mazzilli said. "You see that confidence level getting up."

"I'm cocky again," Cabrera said, smiling.

The entire rotation has earned the right to strut. The starters have allowed four earned runs in the past 41 2/3 innings.

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