Relaunched

With Astros, shortstop off to energetic start on offense and defense

Former Oriole Miguel Tejada

April 17, 2008|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,SUN REPORTER

PHILADELPHIA -- The constant in-game chatter has returned. So have the incessant clapping, the expansive smile and the bat that shoots lasers to every part of a baseball diamond.

He's in a Houston Astros uniform now, but Miguel Tejada is looking like the old Miggi, the one who excited Camden Yards crowds when he first came to Baltimore.

"I'm feeling good, feeling like I have a lot of energy," said Tejada, whose four-year stint as the Orioles' starting shortstop ended in December when he was dealt to the Astros for five players.

"I always have my energy on me, even when I am on a losing team. I'm on a new team, and this team wants to win," he said. "That's why they bring me over here, to try to win. And I have to work hard every day."

The Astros (6-9) have started slowly, but Tejada hasn't. Through 15 games, he is batting .296 with two homers and 10 RBIs.

"He's done everything; I mean everything," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. "You name it, he's done it. He's been the guy rallying the troops together. He's been the cheerleader in the dugout, the cheerleader on the field. ... He does everything."

This might be a welcome change of scenery, but it's not a rebirth, Tejada said. He said he's enjoying the game the way he did in Baltimore and in Oakland. He contended he played energetically during his entire time as an Oriole -- through the losing years, the steroid rumors and that roller-coaster 2005 season.

"I am the same player. I work hard now, too," he said while in the Citizens Bank Park visiting clubhouse this week, the closest he has been to Camden Yards since his final game in September. "New team, that's the only difference."

Scouts and other observers, however, say Tejada looks re-energized, especially on defense, where he is making plays both routine and exceptional.

"He has played great defense," Astros left fielder Carlos Lee said. "You pretty much know him for his hitting skills and he plays OK defense, but here he has been making unbelievable plays. He's been everywhere."

It has been a source of pride for Tejada, 31, to continue to play shortstop. After the whispers grew louder last year that he had diminishing range and needed to switch to third base, Tejada made it a priority this spring to prove the critics wrong.

In his first 15 games, he has made one error compared with four in his first 10 last year. His 2008 fielding percentage of .984 is 13 points higher than his career average.

"I always played a great defense. Even in Baltimore," Tejada said. "They make the comments I lost a couple steps. I don't know why they said that. I am the same shortstop I always [have been]. It's true when people talk bad about you, it makes the news. When people say something wrong about me, it makes me work harder."

Each morning this spring, Tejada and Astros third base coach Ed Romero worked on Tejada's footwork, his setup and his approach -- well before other players took the field. Cooper said it's obvious the extra drills paid off.

"There have been balls he's gotten to that have been up the middle. He's gotten to balls in the holes. He's made a couple plays from the hole that were just tremendous," Cooper said. "If he plays like that all year I am going to be elated."

Tejada started out slowly with the bat and glove. But as the exhibition season progressed, he became more comfortable with the rocky infield in Kissimmee, Fla.

Cooper said he assumed Tejada was struggling with the new environment as well as his inclusion in baseball's Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drugs and a pending federal probe into possible perjury charges alleging he lied during a 2005 investigation of former Oriole Rafael Palmeiro.

As part of an agreement between the union and Major League Baseball, none of those named in the Mitchell Report will be disciplined for actions uncovered by the Mitchell committee. However, an MLB spokesman said it is unclear how baseball would proceed if Tejada were indicted federally.

This week, Tejada politely refused to answer a steroid-related question, but last week, after the amnesty was announced, he told Houston reporters he was relieved the suspension possibilities were over.

"What can I say? It's through," he said. "I get mentioned in the Mitchell Report. From that point, I didn't think about it like that. I think [the amnesty] is good for baseball. Now all the guys can concentrate and play good baseball and we'll move forward."

He definitely seems to be moving on from his time in Baltimore, though he said he would always have a soft spot for the city and the fans.

"I loved the four years I had been there. I was happy, and there's nothing wrong that I have to say there," said Tejada, whose Astros will play at Camden Yards June 17-19. "One of the reasons I want to come back this year is because I want to say hi to all my teammates and I want to see the ballpark, a great ballpark."

For their part, the Astros are excited Tejada is now one of them, even if it meant trading away talented players such as pitchers Matt Albers and Dennis Sarfate and outfielder Luke Scott.

"I'd still take it. It was a great trade for us," Cooper said. "They are benefiting, but I think we are just as much, maybe even more. Because I think we have a chance to win and those guys are still growing. ...

"If you want to win, you pay the price. But we feel good about it. We really do."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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