It's almost time for O's to play kids

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Ben McDonald's shoulder is sore and he goes on the disabled list. Kevin Brown's finger is dislocated and he's sidelined for perhaps a month. The Orioles are some eight games behind the Boston Red Sox.

Much more of this and it could be time to just start planning and playing for the future. Play Manny Alexander every day at second base. Play Jeffrey Hammonds every day in right field (and leave him there). Leave Scott Klingenbeck in the rotation and find out whether he'll ever be more than a guy who just gives you a chance to win. Call up Brian Sackinsky, Jimmy Haynes, Mark Smith, Alex Ochoa, find out what they can do. Find out whether they can help.

But not now. It's too early yet, because the Red Sox are the Red Sox and because they've tried their best to collapse in recent weeks; fortunately for Boston, nobody in the American League East has shown much interest in catching them.

Forget, for now, about trading for David Wells, or Doug Drabek, or another pitcher for the rotation. Unless the other Orioles start playing better, one pitcher or one position player isn't going to make a difference.

Play the guys you've got. If they get better and climb back into the race, then the Orioles should try to make a deal in August or September to augment the club. If they continue to flounder or -- horrors -- play worse, because of their devastated rotation, then it's time to move on.

K? The point at which this decision should be made is nearing.

Strawberry strategy

New York Yankees manager Buck Showalter called his Los Angeles Dodgers counterpart, Tom Lasorda, with a proposal. "I've got a left-handed-hitting, power-hitting outfielder you can have," Showalter said, "if you give me Raul Mondesi. His name is Darryl Strawberry." Lasorda laughed at Showalter's humor, then the Yankees' manager asked Lasorda -- who managed Strawberry in recent years -- whether he had any advice. "Yeah, be ready," Lasorda said. "Be ready for what?" Showalter asked. Lasorda: "Be ready for more distractions than you ever %o imagined." . . . The Dodgers held a team meeting this week, players only, to discuss the uninspiring start that has them playing about .500 ball. "You look at this team," said second baseman Delino DeShields, "and you say, 'We should be a first-place team.' . . . We should be winning this thing easy with this talent. But half the time, we just beat ourselves." Kevin Mitchell is in San Diego, which is a far cry from Japan or San Francisco. There's a very good chance, because of a bad knee, that Mitchell won't play again this year. . . . The Yankees and Brewers reportedly still are talking about making some sort of deal that would enable Danny Tartabull to join Milwaukee, and pitcher Bill Wegman and outfielder Greg Vaughn to join New York. . . Oakland Athletics right-hander Steve Karsay, a talented young pitcher acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays for Rickey Henderson in 1993, finally conceded the inevitable and underwent reconstructive surgery of his pitching elbow last week.

Piniella's patience

Seattle Mariners manager Lou Piniella is known for his lack of patience, but he worked hard to get young outfielder Darren Bragg out of a hitting slump before finally sending Bragg to the minors this week. But even in being patient, Piniella was impatient. At first, Bragg was told to keep his elbows up. Later, he was told to keep his elbows down but to throw the bat into the pitch, while holding onto it, to get the head of the bat out in front. In the visitors' locker room one Saturday night, Piniella had Bragg throwing the bat to get a feel for what he was talking about -- except that he told Bragg to let go of the bat, which destroyed several lockers. . . . The Cleveland Indians won just 11 of their first 18 games against left-handed starters, compared with 25 of 32 against right-handers, confirmation of the league-wide conventional wisdom that the team is vulnerable against lefties. "I'm not going to talk about that," said Indians manager Mike Hargrove. "I'm tired of it."

Bill Ripken? Just say no

About Bill Ripken: a bad idea for the Orioles. And here's why.

First and foremost, Alexander. He's working harder, he's getting better and he's playing with more confidence.

He has shown a tendency for having the yips -- nervousness -- in critical situations, and some of his errors and his failures to turn double plays have hurt the Orioles. But that's to be expected, to a certain degree, because Alexander is playing a position at which he's not entirely comfortable. He has given the Orioles a bit of speed, the threat of the stolen base.

If the Orioles trade for Ripken, what would become of Alexander? A bench player, until he finally gets his chance to play shortstop for the O's? That's insane, because Alexander needs to play to improve, and because there's no need for a change at shortstop any time soon; Cal Ripken is playing a great shortstop, again.

Reason No. 2 is that, although Bill Ripken is having a good year in Triple-A, what makes the Orioles think he's a different player from the guy they let go after the 1992 season? He's very good defensively -- as he was before. He's never going to be a great hitter for average -- he never was. He's not someone who's going to have an impact on the offense with speed or power, not that he ever has done that. Why now?

Finally, there is this -- what happens if they trade for Bill Ripken and he's a bust? What then? They can't really release him without rancor, because of who he is and who his brother is. Suppose he's hitting .180 after a month and they decide they want to use his spot to pick up a backup outfielder. Maybe you can trade Bret Barberie in midseason without much ado, because he hasn't been here that long, but not Bill Ripken. The Orioles could benefit from another short-term marriage with the second baseman, but the imminent divorce would hurt.

If they believe they need a stronger defensive second baseman to spell Alexander occasionally, or replace him in the late innings, get somebody else. Good-field, no-hit second basemen are almost a cliche in baseball.

0 But Bill Ripken. That's a whole other story.

ABC-NBC news not AOK

The importance of the decision by ABC and NBC to pull out of their affiliations with Major League Baseball cannot be underestimated. If the two networks are serious -- and their leaders say they are -- then only CBS and Fox would be left to bid on the rights to televising baseball, and that would, quite naturally, drive down the price of the rights fees. The rights fees go down, the revenue goes down, the amount of money allocated to each of the teams goes down, the payrolls go down, and player salaries go down. When the player salaries and owners' profits go down, the tension and mistrust between the two sides will increase and the entire situation will get worse -- unless the owners show initiative and get the labor talks rolling.

There seems to be little doubt, however, that the money paid to players is going to decrease drastically. No wonder the Orioles gave pitcher Mike Mussina a two-year deal instead of a three-year deal. Mussina likely would want between $4 million and $4.5 million for that third year, which, in the current market, would be an absolute bargain for a pitcher of his ilk. But in the revamped market, a scaled-back market, the Orioles might figure his relative value could be much less than that. . . .

Padres changing, charging

The Padres are making some changes as they close in on first place in the NL West. This week, they dumped left-hander Fernando Valenzuela out of the rotation and replaced him with rookie left-hander Glenn Dishman, who has masterful control with his changeup. And if first baseman Eddie Williams doesn't improve his run production, the Padres may platoon him with left-handed-hitting rookie Roberto Petagine. Andy Benes, who hadn't won in nearly one calendar year, has won his past two starts, including a 1-0 decision Wednesday. . . . Henderson is the latest Oakland star to butt heads with manager Tony La Russa, who benched the All-Star outfielder this week. "I think he's struggling," La Russa said. Henderson, hitting .245 through Wednesday's game, replied: "Struggling from what? What do you mean by struggling?"

Lamont argues back

Chicago White Sox general manager Ron Schueler was quoted last week as saying that new manager Terry Bevington is more aggressive than his predecessor, Gene Lamont. That didn't sit well with Lamont, who called Schueler's comments, in so many words, a bunch of garbage. "Anybody," Lamont said, "who says I wasn't aggressive and didn't hit-and-run is full of it." . . . . Montreal Expos general manager Kevin Malone got into a shouting match with Cincinnati Reds announcer Marty Brennaman last weekend, after Malone heard Brennaman say on the air that Expos pitchers Pedro Martinez and Carlos Perez were out of control. Brennaman said that it was the first time in his 22 years with the Reds that he has been verbally challenged by a club official. . . . There is a huge gap between No. 1 pick Darin Erstad and the team that selected him, the California Angels, in signing bonus negotiations. They're believed to be about $500,000 apart. "My optimistic feelings of a quick resolution have been replaced by the inevitable feeling that the Angels have to see more signings [by other teams] before they move forward," said Erstad's adviser, Jeff Moorad, who added that the talks "show no signs of life." . . . Texas Rangers shortstop Benji Gil is getting raves. Last week, he stole a hit away from the Blue Jays' John Olerud, spearing a liner as he dived away from the infield. "Incredible," said pitcher Bob Tewksbury. "That play that Benji made . . . I was with arguably the best shortstop ever to play in baseball, and Ozzie [Smith] never made a player better than that." . . . After the Red Sox held a players-only team meeting this week, left fielder Mike Greenwell said, "Somewhere along the line, the players have to talk. I've got it on tape. I'll play it for you. And the three fights that broke out, I've got that on video." In case you were wondering, Greenwell was kidding.

Wendell reigned in

Chicago Cubs manager Jim Riggleman believes that basically, superstitions are ridiculous, so it's no surprise that he has asked struggling pitcher Turk Wendell, the king of juju, to tone down his weirdness. Wendell jumps over foul lines, chews licorice on the mound and brushes his teeth between innings. "I asked him not to let it be an issue," said Riggleman, "that he should be recognized for his accomplishments [as a pitcher]. If he needs to do those things, do them out of sight of the cameras." If Wendell were getting hitters out, Riggleman probably would leave him alone. . . Word is the Angels may be interested in signing ex-Orioles catcher Matt Nokes. Something you'll never see again, ever:

On Wednesday, Twins outfielder Pedro Munoz hit a foul ball into the upper deck in Oakland, and a fan dropped it. The next pitch, Munoz hit a foul directly at the same kid, who caught it. "It was fate," said Jeff Corthell. "I had to get it -- from goat to hero."

The numbers game

* In the 22 games David Justice missed with an injured right shoulder, clean-up hitter Fred McGriff, who bats ahead of Justice in the lineup, compiled a .215 average with one homer and seven RBIs. When Justice has been in the lineup, McGriff is hitting .321 with nine homers and 30 RBIs (through Thursday's games).

* Eric Anthony started at first for the Reds Wednesday, then Craig Worthington started there Thursday; it was the major-league debut for each at that position.

* On June 17, Cleveland left fielder Albert Belle hit a single, triple and homer, needing only a double to hit for the cycle - and at the time, Belle led the AL in doubles.

* New Angels leadoff hitter Tony Phillips had drawn 44 walks through Wednesday's game. Last year, California leadoff hitters combined for 43 walks.

* Andy Van Slyke was the fifth center fielder used by the Phillies in the past month (after Lenny Dykstra, Dave Gallagher, Tony Longmire and Jim Eisenreich).

* Twice in Montreal this week, umpires failed to correctly keep track of ball-strike counts and awarded walks only after the pitcher had thrown five balls.

* Padres first baseman Eddie Williams has hit into 11 double plays already and may threaten Ernie Lombardi's league record of 30, set in 1938.

* During a five-game Colorado Rockies losing streak that ended Wednesday, opposing left-handers allowed just five runs in 311Z3 innings to the Rockies. Before that streak began, lefties had allowed 40 runs in 402Z3 innings to Colorado. AL East

Troy O'Leary, Boston: Dumped by the Milwaukee Brewers after 46 games, he was hitting .348 going into the series with the

Orioles and has essentially taken a job away from Mark Whiten.

AL Central

Paul Sorrento, Cleveland: The Minnesota Twins cast away Sorrento because they had Kent Hrbek, and because it didn't look like he'd ever be a complete player. They were right, but he's an exceptional No. 8 hitter for the Indians.

AL West

Jim Edmonds, California: One of those guys who grows on managers because, although he's not overwhelmed with talent, he plays hard and helps you in one way or another every day. Has emerged as one of Angels' best run producers.

NL East

Tyler Green, Philadelphia: The Phillies waited for months and years for the former No. 1 pick to develop, and almost out of sheer frustration, they threw him into the rotation and ' voila ' he's been superb, with a 6-4 record and a 2.88 ERA.

NL Central

Ron Gant, Cincinnati: He broke his leg and signed. . . . Then again, Baltimore knows all about what Ron Gant is doing this year.

NL West

Ismael Valdes, Los Angeles: The way he's pitching, he could make the All-Star team, although he's been overshadowed by Hideo Nomo. He started the year in the bullpen, but has moved into the Dodgers' rotation and is effectively their ace.

WRONG IN RIGHT

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