Regan's risk centers on Goodwin

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Brady Anderson drops to the No. 2 spot, Damon Buford goes to Rochester, the entire team shifts direction. The Orioles didn't appear to require a shake-up after winning two straight in California, but they got one yesterday.

Boy, did they get one.

Curtis Goodwin played only 35 games at Triple-A Rochester. He had a lower on-base percentage than Anderson does with the Orioles. But last night, he was manager Phil Regan's new leadoff man and center fielder.

Did the sun get to Regan in winter ball?

Or did he discover the next Kenny Lofton?

This is Regan's biggest risk since becoming Orioles manager. With the season less than one-fourth complete, he's disrupting a seemingly revived team to make room for a completely unproven player.

Still, Goodwin had as many hits (two) in last night's 2-1 victory over Oakland as Buford had for the season. He stole a base and scored the Orioles' first run, and delivered a sacrifice bunt that led to the second.

Buford began his major-league career much the same way, producing one of the best first weeks in Orioles history, but he isn't as gifted a player. Regan believed that from the start.

Indeed, this can't be called a panic move, not when it was so premeditated. Regan anointed Goodwin his center fielder of the future without seeing Buford play. And he wanted him batting leadoff despite Anderson's success in that role the past three years.

No one can question the manager's guts. But if this experiment fails, it's his hide. He's the one tinkering with Anderson. And he's the one running Buford out of the organization.

Start with Anderson. In spring training, he indicated that he would be less than understanding if Goodwin replaced him in the leadoff spot. But yesterday, he offered no hint of displeasure.

"I'm just going to play," Anderson said. "He [Regan] makes up the lineup. I respect it. That's his job as a manager. It's my job to do what he says."

The top of the Orioles' lineup last night featured three consecutive left-handed hitters -- Goodwin, Anderson and Rafael Palmeiro -- but that could change against left-handed pitching, with Goodwin possibly dropping to ninth.

Just as Anderson doesn't play center field because he's brilliant in left, he's no longer hitting first because he might be the answer in the No. 2 spot. Regan has tried five No. 2 hitters in the club's first 32 games.

"Brady's a good fastball hitter, and I think he'll be a great second hitter," Regan said. "He can pull the ball better than Curtis Goodwin can. If Goodwin gets on, that leaves the hole open, and Brady can pull it there."

If Goodwin gets on.

"I've been very successful as a leadoff hitter the past three years, from any perspective you want to judge a leadoff hitter by," Anderson said in spring training. "It's a little confusing for me to even hear I might be moved."

Imagine how he feels now.

"It's going to be an adjustment for Brady," assistant general manager Frank Robinson said while serving as the color commentator on last night's Home Team Sports telecast. "I just hope it doesn't mess him up too much."

Anderson went 1-for-4 last night and is in a 6-for-32 slump. Still, he leads the club with 16 extra-base hits, ranks second with 18 RBIs and has stolen 32 consecutive bases without being caught, tying an American League record.

Can Goodwin top that?

It's doubtful, but Buford was the more explosive issue yesterday. He asked to be traded in a 20-minute, closed-door meeting with Regan and other club officials, and his father, Don, the Orioles' assistant farm director, supported his stand.

Damon's reaction to his demotion?

"I think it's B.S.," he said.

The kid is practically family, the son of an Orioles Hall of Famer, a favorite of Robinson's. But Regan never thought he could hit, and Buford was 2-for-32, so that was that.

Only it's not so simple. Buford started only 11 games, all the while knowing Regan preferred Goodwin. That much became obvious in spring training, when Regan said the center-field job was open, but started Buford only twice.

Regan said he had no problem with Buford, "except we need more offense right now . . . it's hard to keep an outfielder hitting .063." To that extent, Buford was partly a victim of the club's poor start. As GM Roland Hemond said, "Players would like to get greater opportunities, but clubs have to win."

Fair enough, but this went on with Buford for three years. Hemond is almost obligated to trade him now, and he'd better not ask for a top prospect in return. It's the club's own fault that Buford's value is shot.

The issue finally came to a head yesterday in Regan's office. Buford calmly stated his case, and rather than adopt the club's party line, his father rushed to his defense.

"My dad stuck his neck out for me," Damon said.

"I had to," Don said. "Even though I'm in the front office, and I understand the procedure, I still thought it was the right thing to do. If what I expressed isn't taken the right way, I may be fired. But if that's the case, that's the case. I'm a man. I had a chance to express my opinion. And I did."

Don isn't going to be fired, but this was a sensitive topic in more ways than one. Buford and Goodwin are good friends, so Goodwin's major-league debut was bittersweet. It bothered him that his promotion came at Buford's expense.

"I couldn't really get too excited," Goodwin said. "Damon, he introduced me to the game when I first came up [in the Florida Instructional League]. He took me out as his little brother."

Buford entered the clubhouse at 3:30 p.m. yesterday and immediately spotted Goodwin. "What's up, C. G.?" he said, suspecting he was about to be demoted, even though the Orioles already had placed Andy Van Slyke on the disabled list.

Goodwin, wearing a black Orioles T-shirt and his white uniform pants, followed Buford to his locker, dropped to one knee, then sat down on the floor. Buford remained in his street clothes. The two spoke for 10 minutes.

It was a touching, emotional scene, a changing of the guard, the culmination of an unspoken competition between friends, a competition that, in Goodwin's words, was "quite weird."

Now the pressure is on Goodwin. If the kid is as good as Regan thinks, no one will remember Damon Buford, and no one will care where Brady Anderson is batting.

If.

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