Fiorentino aims for steady form

Outfielder shows his talent at Bowie

Minor leagues

May 22, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER | CHILDS WALKER,SUN REPORTER

In any given Double-A game, most of the players on the field will never amount to much as major leaguers. The ones who might don't look like the rest. Bowie outfielder Jeff Fiorentino is one of those.

He uses a short left-handed swing to turn on inside fastballs. He covers tremendous ground in the outfield. He takes advantage of defensive lapses by taking the next base.

And all that is visible even now, when he's hitting a disappointing .209.

"He's a guy who can steal bases, who can pop a homer every once in awhile," Bowie manager Don Werner said. "He does a great job in left field and center field. He's made some tremendous diving catches. He has a chance to be a real two-way player."

That versatility earned Fiorentino, 23, a surprise promotion from Single-A Frederick to the major leagues last summer. He held his own, batting .250 with a homer and five RBIs in 13 games.

But he hit a bad patch after he was sent back to Frederick, batting .225 over two months. He rebounded to hit .347 with 12 homers and 33 RBIs in August. He has slugged more than .500 in both of his minor league seasons.

He was surprised by his up-and-down season, because he had always been consistent in college and high school.

"I've never been that cold, ever, as I was those two months," he said. "And I've never been that hot, like I was in August."

Team officials were further impressed when he arrived at spring training with an extra 12 pounds of muscle on a frame that had been gangly in 2005.

"It's a huge advantage," he said of the added strength. "When a guy gets in on you or you hit one off the end of your bat, you can still muscle it into the outfield."

"I think he's definitely a major league player," Werner said. "Whether he'll be a fourth outfielder or a regular is still open to question, I think."

Fiorentino got off to a solid start this season but missed 10 days after he sprained his ankle while sliding into home plate. He's struggled in his return with 23 strikeouts in 110 at-bats through Saturday.

"I was surprised when he came back and he was struggling," Werner said. "He has such a nice, short swing. You wouldn't expect him to get fooled a lot."

Fiorentino said he had trouble seeing pitches. "And I got into the habit of pulling off the ball a little bit," he said.

Werner wants to see Fiorentino capitalize on his bat speed by waiting longer on breaking pitches.

Despite the struggles, Fiorentino leads the Baysox with six homers, is second with 17 runs and third with 16 RBIs.

He said he's content to work on his game in the minors but is ready to be called up at any time. He was a candidate to be promoted when David Newhan broke his leg in April, but Fiorentino was hurt at the same time.

"I don't feel that I'm too far away," he said. "When I was up there, I didn't feel overmatched. I prepare myself as much as possible, because I know I'm right on the doorstep."

childs.walker@baltsun.com

On deck

Orioles fans in North Carolina will be able to catch Ottawa on an eight-game swing in Charlotte and Durham that begins tomorrow night.

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