New-look O's still able to flex muscles Offense provides shades of '96 in routs of Texas


Every couple of days, Orioles manager Davey Johnson is asked about the makeup of his club compared with last year's, about how situational hitting appears to be in, and trying to mash the cover off the ball is out.

"Are we going to maul teams? No, not as much," he said recently.

The Texas Rangers sure felt as if they had been mauled in this series.

In two games, the Orioles pounded out 28 hits and scored 18 runs. They hit six home runs, including four yesterday in a 9-0 victory. And they further dispelled the notion that they are a tamer bunch on offense after some minor retooling over the winter.

They may not get 257 home runs again this season, but they won't be playing little ball, either.

"We still have plenty of power punch," said assistant general manager Kevin Malone. "I just think people were looking for an area they thought we weren't as strong in because we had improved in so many other areas.

"What they fail to realize is, we only had Todd Zeile and Eddie Murray for a portion of the season. Basically, the only real changes are we have Inky [Pete Incaviglia] for the whole year, and we have Eric Davis instead of [Bobby] Bonilla. We still have plenty of power and we're going to hit some home runs, but I think our focus is going to be on manufacturing runs and doing the little things to win games.

"One of the strengths of this club is, last year we thought we had to hit home runs to win games. This year, we don't think we have to, but we know we're capable. That makes us more versatile, more diversified, and it makes us a tougher team to beat."

It sure won't be easy as long as the Orioles are hitting .299, their average after yesterday's romp. They've scored 54 runs in nine games, and hit 12 homers.

"Everybody cut down the offense last year, that we hit too many home runs," said catcher Chris Hoiles. "We had guys who could hit home runs, and we won a lot of games that way. This year isn't going to be any different. We're going to hit home runs and score a lot of runs. We've added a little more team speed, but we're still going to have high-scoring games."

"The object of an offense is to score runs," said Cal Ripken. "I thought we did a pretty good job of that last year. Hopefully, we'll score as many this year."

Interestingly, only four players collected hits yesterday: Rafael Palmeiro (4-for-5), Jeffrey Hammonds (3-for-4), Hoiles (3-for-4) and Ripken (2-for-4). That's as close as the Orioles came to taking it easy on the Rangers.

Hammonds may have been the hardest on them, hitting his first two home runs. It was the second two-homer game of his career, and both of yesterday's shots were of the tape-measure variety -- especially the first one, which traveled 401 feet down the line in left.

He's a big reason the bottom three hitters in the lineup went 13-for-21 in the series. Since ending an 0-for-14 skid with an 11th-inning, game-winning double Wednesday in Kansas City, Hammonds has gone 5-for-8.

Hoiles hit his first home run in the fifth inning, jumping on reliever Julio Santana's first pitch and lining it into the seats in left, 359 feet away. "It's good to get the first one out of the way," he said.

The early slump may be moving out, as well. Hoiles is 7-for-12 during the past three games and raised his average to .333. He's also catching some breaks, like in the seventh inning, when he singled off the bag at first.

"The results are starting to show," he said. "When you hit the first base bag and get a knock out of it, that means the tables are turned. But it could go at any time. It's a long year. But right now I feel very confident. I'm not missing many pitches."

Neither is Ripken, who singled in a run in the first inning and hit a two-run homer in the third. He's batting .410 with four home runs and 11 RBIs.

And neither is Palmeiro, who had the 19th four-hit game of his career. He had hit safely in six straight at-bats, leaving his average at .324.

"We have some strong people in here," said hitting coach Rick Down.

And they still can maul a team on occasion.

Pub Date: 4/14/97

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