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Oates piecing outfield puzzle Anderson due back; Hammonds to stay


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Jeffrey Hammonds has more than lived up to expectations, and in the process he's given the Orioles a pleasant problem.

Brady Anderson is eligible to come off the disabled list Thursday, which means manager Johnny Oates will have to do a juggling act with his starting lineup.

Under more normal circumstances, Hammonds would be a candidate to return to Triple-A Rochester. But after hitting safely in nine of his first 11 games, with two home runs, eight RBI and a .341 average, the youngster isn't about to go anywhere.

"I know what move I want to make when Brady comes back," said Oates, "but we [he and the front office] will have to have some discussion. Right now, I'm not sure if Brady will be activated and go right into the lineup, if he'll be activated and not go into the lineup, if he'll go on a rehabilitation assignment, or if he'll stay on the DL."

Regardless of the immediate plans, when Anderson returns, the Orioles have a lot of options to consider.

"There are all kinds of possibilities," said Oates, when asked how he will manipulate four outfielders (Anderson, Hammonds, Mike Devereaux and Mark McLemore).

Nobody has said officially that Hammonds will remain with the club, but it's become a foregone conclusion.

Until now Hammonds has played only in left field, but Oates said yesterday that could change. "I had a talk with Jeffrey in Chicago," said Oates. "It was the first time we'd really had a chance to get together.

"I told him I wasn't sure which [outfield] position he'd play most of his career, but that it was probably a good idea for him to get used to playing all of them."

The only thing that everybody agrees on at the moment is that Hammonds needs to play every day. "If he's healthy he's got to play," said Oates.

Keeping Hammonds in the lineup regularly and finding enough time for everybody else will require some creative maneuvering by Oates. He's on record as saying he has reservations about creating a spot by moving McLemore to third base to replace the slumping Leo Gomez.

"He might be the greatest third baseman ever," Oates exaggerated, "but I don't have the same feeling he could play there as well as he plays right field. That's not to say he couldn't play it adequately in a pinch.

"It may come to pass that he could play there for a game or two to get some at-bats. There's a slight possibility he could play there, but I can't tell you what the answer is going to be as we sit here."

If there is to be a revolving outfielder, it most likely will be Hammonds. Devereaux and Anderson have basically been fixtures in center and left field except for injuries, and Oates isn't going to disrupt anything by moving them around.

Oates also can figure on a game or two per week as a fill-in for designated hitter Harold Baines, another game to give second baseman Harold Reynolds an occasional rest and perhaps a rare start at third base.

But Oates is not necessarily in favor of making a Tony Phillips-type player out of McLemore and won't do anything to disturb his regular performers.

"Our goal is to win this year, and develop something for the long run," he said.

"We want Jeffrey to play and improve. If it means playing five games [per week], I think he can learn how to play doing that."

For now, however, it appears as though Hammonds will do the rest of his learning in the big leagues.

He was touted early as a special talent, one who would require little refining.

He has done nothing to disprove that theory. Now it's up to the Orioles to find a way to make all the parts fit.

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