Hernandez proves big hit as newcomer

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

April 11, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Orioles signed catcher Ramon Hernandez to a four-year, $27.5 million deal in the offseason primarily for his ability to work with young pitchers, to call a good game and to prevent speedy teams, like their opponent last night, from running wild on the base paths.

His bat was considered a bonus. However, a week into the season, Hernandez has been the team's best hitter. After last night's win over Tampa Bay, Hernandez leads the Orioles' regulars in batting average, RBIs, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.

Hernandez hit ninth on Opening Day, but Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo had him up to sixth last night, and even said he is still contemplating slotting the catcher in the No. 2 hole.

"I never believed from the start that Ramon was an eighth or ninth hitter," Perlozzo said. "I didn't think he was a .700 hitter either, though."

A career .262 hitter, Hernandez has a hit, a walk or a sacrifice fly in 16 of his 23 plate appearances. In his 19 official at-bats, he has 12 hits, including 10 singles, for a major league-leading .632 average and eight RBIs. He drove in two in the Orioles' four-run third inning last night with a two-out single.

"It's a long season," Hernandez said. "You're going to go through the good times and you are going to have the bad times. The most important thing for me is to keep focused, just try to take one at-bat at a time, one pitch at a time. I am just trying to get my pitch and if I get it, hit it hard."

Last week, Perlozzo called his catcher one of the best two-way players the Orioles have had in recent years. Still, his blazing start at the plate has been a nice surprise, especially after the 29-year-old catcher hit just .167 (6-for-36) in 15 games this spring. Hernandez said that his focus in spring training was on learning the Orioles' pitching staff.

"When the season starts, you play for something," Hernandez said. "You're trying to get ready, but no matter what you do in the game, it doesn't count. I wasn't worried about [my hitting]. I know if I get good pitches and have some good at-bats, I am going to get my hits."

More shuffling

Perlozzo continued his daily shuffling of outfielders last night, giving David Newhan his second straight start. In his first start of the season Sunday, Newhan was 0-for-4 but stole a base and scored the Orioles' only run in a 4-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox.

"I think he and Corey [Patterson] are the only two guys that have sat more than a few days at a time," Perlozzo said. "When he gets in, he makes some things happen. Right now, we need somebody to make some things happen."

Last night, Patterson and Luis Matos sat as Newhan was in left, Nick Markakis in center and Jay Gibbons in right. Perlozzo said that he's not concerned that all the shuffling is having a negative effect on his players.

"It's not just a tough thing to think that you might have to produce a little in order to play," Perlozzo said. "It's not a novel idea here. ... I think the worst thing you can do is start making excuses for yourself. We don't want to be a ballclub full of excuses. You play two days and you sit one, you should be just as sharp."

Tejada OK

Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada showed up in the visiting clubhouse at Tropicana Field with a nice-sized bump around his left elbow, courtesy of Jonathan's Papelbon's fastball in the ninth inning Sunday.

The shortstop, who got spiked in the first inning last night tagging out Carl Crawford on an attempted steal, said that he was still pretty sore, but good enough to start last night. It marked his 925th consecutive game, the longest active consecutive-game streak, and the seventh longest all-time. He went 3-for-4 last night to lift his average to .407.

Off the Hendrickson hook

The Orioles spoke yesterday of gearing up for tonight's scheduled rematch with Tampa Bay left-hander Mark Hendrickson, who threw a complete-game, three-hit shutout against them last week at Camden Yards.

Now, however, they will have to wait with the news last night that Hendrickson has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder tightness.

The Devil Rays are hopeful that Hendrickson will miss only two starts. He is eligible to come off the disabled list on April 22.

Tampa Bay recalled right-hander Jason Hammel from Triple-A Durham. He will replace Hendrickson tonight in what will be his major league debut.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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