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Webster glad to get foot, even sore, in door His Achilles' reacts well to increased catching role

MILWAUKEE — MILWAUKEE -- As a seldom-seen backup, Lenny Webster lived for this situation early this season. Now that he has found it, he hopes it doesn't grind him up.

After receiving six consecutive starts for the first time in his six-year major-league career, Webster was left out of last night's lineup. Still bothered by a tight left hamstring, Tim Laker received his first start since being promoted from Triple-A Rochester and hit a sacrifice fly in his first at-bat.

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Though hardly complaining about his more significant role in Chris Hoiles' absence, Webster is waiting for a sore Achilles' tendon to heal fully.

"At least it's going in the right direction," Webster said. "It's getting better instead of getting worse, and that was something I was concerned about. I'll leave it up to Davey [Johnson]. He has a great sense about when to give guys time off. If I feel the need, I'll go to him and say something."

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Webster says the best indicator of fatigue is a catcher's bat. He has thrived since receiving greater responsibility. Webster has hit .364 in his past 12 games, including multi-hit games in five of his past eight starts despite being 0-for-10 in his past three.

"You look at what Chris went through in Atlanta with those strikeouts [seven in seven consecutive at-bats]," Webster said. "He's a guy who usually doesn't strike out a lot, but he was pretty worn out at the time. I'm not at that stage yet."

Before last night's game, Johnson remained leery about Laker's health. Asked how close Laker was to being 100 percent, Johnson guessed "inside of 10 percent."

If Davey were king

Johnson isn't managing the American League All-Stars on July 8, but if he was the Orioles' skipper says he would have "five or six" of his own along for the ride.

Johnson won't name names but is clearly in favor of left fielder B. J. Surhoff, a man of all positions. Johnson says Surhoff is currently his third catcher in case Webster and Laker are unavailable. (Jeff Reboulet is fourth.) Meanwhile, Johnson feels comfortable with Surhoff in left field, third base or first base. Surhoff has played all three in the last three weeks.

"He's good wherever you put him. To me, he's the most underrated guy in the league," Johnson said. "I'd play him anywhere. He wouldn't embarrass you because he'll be paying attention."

Center fielder Brady Anderson, second baseman Roberto Alomar and third baseman Cal Ripken retain solid holds on starting All-Star berths.

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Thus, the Orioles are almost certain to send more than three representatives to the game for the first time since 1972 when Pat Dobson, Bobby Grich, Dave McNally, Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson went. The Orioles had six players named in 1969 and 1971 and seven in 1970.

Scott Erickson (10-2) and Mike Mussina (8-2) are strong possibilities and major-league save co-leader Randy Myers appears a lock. Engaged to be married during the All-Star break, Jimmy Key (11-3) has removed himself from consideration.

Johnson also is promoting first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. Palmeiro continues to lead the Orioles in home runs and RBIs despite recently falling to a .266 average. Palmeiro hit 39 homers with 142 RBIs last year but has never made an All-Star Game as an Oriole. "I don't care what he's hitting. I'd take him," said Johnson.

Bullish on Benitez

Armando Benitez is growing in the Orioles' eyes. Johnson and pitching coach Ray Miller say that the Dominican reliever no longer represents a mixed bag.

Since April 27 Benitez has surrendered runs in only two of 24 appearances and has struck out 29 in 24 innings during that span. With runners on base, Benitez is allowing a microscopic .103 average. Only one of 26 inherited runners has scored against him.

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"He's been outstanding with rare exception," said Miller. "He's improved a lot in the last month or so. His confidence is much higher. He's gotten a lot better about toning down his emotions. You tell him to do your job out there and celebrate in here after the game."

Miller still waits for Benitez to mature into a pitcher who can better handle assignments on consecutive days. The issue is as basic as being aware of day games after night games and getting rest. "He's getting there," Miller said. "I tell him if he does this for another year he'll be where [Mariano] Rivera was for the Yankees last year. He's got that kind of ability."

Around the horn

Reboulet continues to wait for an opportunity. After managing eight hits through April 16, he has only seven hits in 52 at-bats (.135) in 28 appearances since. Reboulet has made 19 starts, his latest a cameo in right field on June 18. Further evidence of an offensive slowdown: Ripken scored his 1,400th career run in Atlanta on June 15. Since, he has scored once in eight games. Despite hitting .307 this month, he has only eight RBIs in June. Mark Loretta's 11-game hitting streak is the longest by a Brewers hitter this season.

Pub Date: 6/25/97


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