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For Alomar, tough rolling on 1 1/2 wheels

THE BALTIMORE SUN

He turned three double plays yesterday and started a fourth, but Roberto Alomar isn't the same at second base, isn't the same batting right-handed, isn't the same at all.

"He's still limited, there's no question about it," third base coach Sam Perlozzo said after the Orioles' 2-0 victory over Detroit. "He's not moving around like he can at all. I'd say he's 70 percent."

Amazing, isn't it? The Orioles are 30-13 without a major contribution from Alomar. In fact, his sprained left ankle remains such a problem that he's now cheating in double-play situations so he can get to second more quickly.

Offensively, his impact has been negligible, except for an eight-game stretch in which he produced 14 of his 20 RBIs. And he's batting .191 from the right side, with no extra-base hits and only two RBIs in 47 at-bats.

Davey Johnson considered resting him yesterday against Detroit left-hander Justin Thompson, but the manager couldn't bring himself to start Jeff Reboulet, knowing how busy Alomar would be behind Scott Erickson.

So, Alomar played, contributing to the four double plays in another magnificent effort by Erickson, but also going 0-for-3 and making his third error in five games.

"It hurts," he said afterward, staring at his bare ankle.

Where does it most affect him?

"Hitting right-handed. There's still not enough strength," he added, referring to his front foot.

The obvious solution is to rest him against left-handers, but the Orioles probably won't face one in Cleveland, and Alomar doesn't figure to sit in New York, where the Yankees likely will start Kenny Rogers and David Wells.

"Not that Reboulet doesn't do a good job, but I want Robbie in there," Johnson said.

"We're a better team with him. And I don't know what I can do to get him feeling better."

Alomar doesn't know, either.

"I don't like to be on the bench," he said.

The Orioles believe there is little risk of Alomar's injury worsening. But with a six-game lead in the AL East, wouldn't it make sense to give him an extended rest, so that he could recover more fully?

As careful as he is with his pitchers, Johnson apparently doesn't think so.

Alomar is working with a new shortstop (Mike Bordick) and new third baseman (Cal Ripken). Johnson wants them to adjust to each other's rhythms, knowing that Alomar will benefit from the warm weather, if it should ever get here.

"To me, the infield just starts getting to know each other a third into the season," Johnson said. "It takes that amount of time before they know what the other guy is going to do.

"They made a couple of nice plays today. They're enjoying it more. The guesswork is out. But you've got to be comfortable for a while, so when pressure time comes you really feel good about it; there are no surprises."

Thus, Johnson believes Alomar is better off playing. But a few days ago, Perlozzo asked Alomar to start cheating in double-play situations, and position himself closer to the bag.

Perlozzo said the second baseman was taking too many relay throws on the run, giving him less time to plant with his left foot. Now, Alomar is shading in on some right-handed hitters, and up the middle on others.

It's more difficult for him to cheat on left-handed hitters, who are more likely to hit the ball to him at second. Yesterday, he had to scramble on a double-play ball hit to Bordick by a lefty, and Perlozzo said he only "half-planted."

And so it goes.

Alomar didn't make his first error until Friday in Seattle, but committed his third yesterday on a slow roller by Phil Nevin -- a ball he usually can field with both eyes closed.

"He let the ball come to him," said Johnson, a former major-league second baseman. "When the ankle's not real healthy, you sometimes let the ball come to you rather than go get it. That's what he's doing.

"On that ball, he moved to his right. If he's really healthy, he'd move to his right and in.

"But he went a little to his right and let the ball play him. That's the ankle."

Alomar refused to use that as an excuse. "The ball just took a funny hop. I thought it was going to come up. It kind of skipped." The play proved inconsequential. But it's disturbing to see Alomar this way.

He doesn't look awful.

He just doesn't look like Robbie Alomar.

"He's still doing a great job. I don't think it's showing up that much at all," Bordick said. "Probably the most discouraging thing is that he wants to move around like he can. It seems to be sticking with him.

"Ankle sprains are hard to shake. I've heard people say the pain stays with them for a year. But he's running out there every day, making the plays. There's a lot to be said for that."

True enough, but the Orioles will need Alomar in September and October more than they do now. They need to keep monitoring him closely, and if necessary, protect him.

"I can't wait until Robbie has a healthy ankle," pitching coach Ray Miller said. "He'll be fun to watch. He's making great plays now. But I'd like to see him when he's healthy."

When.

Pub Date: 5/22/97

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