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Hammonds' minor rehab sparks major improvement


Since spending 12 days in the minor leagues, Jeffrey Hammonds has played every day and seemingly erased the doubts surrounding his surgically repaired right knee.

The doubts did not come from Hammonds, but from the Orioles' front office.

But Hammonds so far has removed those doubts.

His bases-empty homer in yesterday's 9-5 victory extended his hitting streak to seven games since being recalled from Double-A Bowie. Hammonds said his minor-league stint showed the Orioles' brass that he was ready to play.

"I don't think it's me," Hammonds said. "I think it was a turning point for those who were watching me."

At Bowie, Hammonds hit .387 (12-for-31) with seven runs and 11 RBIs.

It wasn't the statistics that impressed manager Phil Regan. It was the reports that Hammonds was sliding hard when he stole bases and was not hesitating to make diving catches. They told Regan that, physically and psychologically, Hammonds was OK.

"I think it was a combination of both," Regan said. "One of the key things was that he go down there and make up his mind that his leg was fine, that he was going to go all out and that he was going to get back here."

When Hammonds was optioned to Bowie on May 14, he did not see the wisdom of what amounted to a minor-league rehabilitation but what to him seemed like a demotion.

"At the time I might not have agreed with it, but rehab is rehab," PTC Hammonds said. "You have to go down there and work your butt off."

Hammonds worked hard and is back in Baltimore. But nobody's taking any chances, either. The 24-year-old right fielder still wears a bulky knee brace. And Regan is still fairly cautious, replacing Hammonds after five innings yesterday because it was a day game after a night game.

After what Hammonds has been through since going from Stanford to the majors in just over a year, it doesn't hurt to be careful. A herniated disk in his neck marred his 1993 debut, and an old high school football injury required reconstructive knee surgery after last season.

Hammonds has put that behind him.

He's certainly hitting well. The only pitcher he hasn't hit was in his first game back as a pinch hitter against Seattle's Randy Johnson. Not that Hammonds is losing any sleep about not hitting Johnson. Since going 0-for-2 that night, he has raised his batting average from .190 to .292 and hit two home runs.

"If I was hitting .180 again and not running well after rehab, I would have a whole different outlook," Hammonds said. "Right now it's proven to be ingenious."

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