Manto not quite back in the swing


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Shortly after Jeff Manto went on the disabled list in June, Orioles manager Phil Regan said that he would be the regular third baseman when he came back. An injury, Regan said, shouldn't cost a player his job.

Manto is back, but he's not playing regularly, having started only four of the nine games for which he's been eligible. The reason, Regan indicated yesterday, is that he doesn't think Manto is fully recovered from his strained hamstring.

"I don't think he's regained the stroke that he had," Regan said. "It just seems to me he doesn't have as much movement [defensively], or that he's running as well as he was. . . . That's what I see."

Regan asked Manto if he was healthy, and the third baseman assured him that he felt fine. "He says his leg is all right," Regan said. "But it just doesn't look like he's moving as well. . . . . I'm still looking for him to play the way he did the first half, and I just haven't seen that."

Leo Gomez began the year as the Orioles' regular third baseman, and after watching him go weeks without an RBI, Regan decided to try Manto, who had made the team as a utility man. Manto replaced Gomez May 17, went 4-for-4 that night and went on a tear that lasted more than a month.

He hit five homers in three days in early June, and when he was placed on the disabled list June 25, Manto had accumulated 12 homers, 30 RBI and a .281 average. The Orioles came to rely on him -- and, Regan said yesterday, they really need him now, particularly now that Chris Hoiles and Jeffrey Hammonds are out of the lineup.

"That's why whoever's at third," Regan said, "we really need to get some production out of him."

Manto reiterated yesterday that his hamstring isn't bothering him; he's even reduced treatment in recent days for the hamstring. He just doesn't feel he needs it anymore.

"I feel fine," he said. "But he [Regan] is making the decision and there's nothing I can do. That's part of it, part of playing a lot. People are going to look at you differently."

Manto chuckled when asked if he wasn't running as well as he had been before his injury. "I couldn't move in the beginning," he said. "That's what happens when you have a little bit of success. You're put under the microscope, and that's what's happening now.

"This isn't to start anything -- that's going to go with territory. It's just a matter of getting in the swing of things. It may take some time."

Since the All-Star break, Manto has started four games, Gomez three and Jeff Huson two. Manto is hitting .143 (2-for-14), with no homers and one RBI. In Wednesday's loss at Minnesota, Regan used Huson as a pinch hitter for Manto with the bases loaded and the Orioles trailing by three runs -- making it abundantly clear Regan didn't think Manto is swinging well.

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