It was a good news/bad news situation for Curtis Goodwin in the fifth inning last night.
The good news was that he showed he hasn't forgotten one of his best offensive weapons -- the bunt. The bad news was that he didn't get the ball on the ground and it was caught by Boston first baseman Mo Vaughn.
When he first joined the Orioles and was on a mercurial .500 (batting average) ride that everyone knew couldn't continue, Goodwin was successful in his first two attempts to bunt for a hit.
His early success had a dramatic effect -- those ground-ball singles Goodwin has been able to squeeze through the right side are not complete accidents. They are the result of infielders having to tighten up to take the bunt away from the rookie center fielder.
The bunts weren't as noticeable as Goodwin's average dipped to a more human .351 and the fear was that he might do what so many speedsters before him have done -- abandon an effective weapon.
Goodwin's speed and bunting ability are such that he could do a lot worse than putting the ball on the ground at least once a game.
Last night, Goodwin's attempt for a bunt single was popped over the head of pitcher Roger Clemens. He's been successful with that ploy before, but a ball on the ground still represents his best chance to reach safely.
When manager Phil Regan pushed for Goodwin as his everyday center fielder, he kept making comparisons to Cleveland's Kenny Lofton. For good reason. As the Indians' pitching coach last year, Regan saw Lofton collect 15 bunt singles. And that was only the tip of the iceberg.
Lofton and the Mets' Brett Butler are the best examples in baseball of the value of bunting as an art. As a rookie in 1992, Lofton had 31 bunt hits in 69 attempts, a .449 success ratio that took his .262 hitting average to an overall .285 mark.
A year later, having established the threat, Lofton more than cut his attempts in half. But he was successful 19 of the 33 times (.576) he tried to bunt for a hit, enough to tack 15 points onto his average, which was .325 overall.
As significant as those numbers are, they don't begin to measure the real value of Lofton's bunting ability. Left uncharted are the number of hits he has slapped through and over the infield because his bunting ability has to be respected.
Even such an accomplished hitter as Toronto's Paul Molitor uses the bunt as a threatening weapon. Molitor had seven bunt hits in as many tries last year, raising his average 10 points to .341.
Both Goodwin and second baseman Manny Alexander have brought the heretofore missing bunting dimension to the Orioles. It is something that not even a slump should deter for either.
Despite last night's failure, Goodwin is 3-for-6 when he bunts for a hit and Alexander has been successful on both of his attempts. Both likely would benefit if they stepped up their "little ball" offense.
Too often, players with the ability refuse to use the bunt as a means of getting out of a slump, which is a mistake. The accepted practice is to hit your way out of the slump, then go to the bunt as a bonus, when it might be just as easy to try the reverse method.
There's an old baseball axiom that says all hits look like line drives in the box score. They don't ask how, only how many when it comes time to compute the averages.