Davis' return may be O's best deal

THE BALTIMORE SUN

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Nearly a year ago, the Orioles acquired Todd Zeile and Pete Incaviglia to improve their right-handed hitting for the stretch run. The need isn't as urgent this season, but it's significant enough that the club attempted to trade for Mike Stanley before the July 31 waiver deadline.

When the deal fell through, the Orioles claimed Stanley on waivers, according to league sources. But the New York Yankees also claimed the catcher, and because they had a lesser record, gained exclusive negotiating rights with Boston for the next 72 hours.

The Yankees got their man, reacquiring Stanley and getting minor-league infielder Randy Brown for highly regarded minor-league pitcher Tony Armas Jr. and a player to be identified, believed to be pitcher Jim Mecir.

The Orioles' response?

It could depend on Eric Davis.

Club sources indicated that a trade for a right-handed bat is possible but unlikely -- as the team with the best record in baseball, the Orioles get the last crack at players on waivers, and most of the quality hitters have been claimed.

General manager Pat Gillick, however, said yesterday that Davis might be ready by mid-September. Manager Davey Johnson said the outfielder probably would be a pinch hitter and late-inning defensive replacement if he returned from colon cancer.

It would be foolish to expect too much of Davis -- he underwent surgery June 13, and probably could not swing as powerfully as before. It would be even more foolish to rely on oft-injured outfielder Jerome Walton, who went on the disabled list April 22 but is now talking about returning in September.

Players on the DL, however, are eligible for the postseason -- even if they return after the Aug. 31 deadline for setting playoff rosters. To include Davis or Walton on their final list of 25, the Orioles would need only to drop another player from their list of eligibles.

With a 5 1/2 -game lead over the Yankees and a 10 1/2 -game lead over the next-closest wild-card contender, October is foremost in the Orioles' thoughts. Seattle, a possible first-round opponent, features three left-handed starters -- Randy Johnson, Jeff Fassero and Jamie Moyer. And the Yankees, a potential ALCS foe, feature Andy Pettitte and David Wells.

The Orioles have a higher winning percentage against left-handed starters (.694) than right-handers (.619), but those statistics are a bit misleading. Most of their best hitters are left-handed. And Geronimo Berroa is the only player on their roster hitting lefties better than righties.

That's why the Orioles were so interested in Stanley -- even in addition to Berroa and Harold Baines, Gillick said. Stanley could have been a right-handed DH, backup first baseman and third catcher, providing insurance if Chris Hoiles or Lenny Webster got hurt, further solidifying the Orioles' bench.

"You need all the right-handed hitting you can get," Gillick said.

Gillick said the Orioles still might attempt to acquire another right-handed bat, "if the right guy is there." Frankly, their bigger priority is a starting pitcher. Scott Kamieniecki had an 8-2 lead in the third inning of Game 1 last night, but pitching on three days' rest, couldn't complete five innings.

Again, the question must be asked:

Can the Orioles trust Kamieniecki in October?

Likewise, can they expect to beat Randy Johnson and the Mariners -- or even Chuck Finley and the Angels -- without Davis and Roberto Alomar at full strength? Davis was batting .463 against left-handers. Alomar, a switch-hitter, is not expected to bat right-handed again this season because of a shoulder problem.

"When Alomar and Davis were here, we were two runs better than everybody else," Johnson said. "Now, it seems we're one run better. I got one run dumber when we lost those guys."

Johnson might look smarter if Berroa were making more of an impact -- he's batting .252 as an Oriole and playing a brutal right field. Davis ran better, played better defense and produced more extra-base hits. The Orioles would not be second-to-last in the league in doubles if he had stayed healthy.

Still, Davis has played only 34 games, and the Orioles have remained in first place every day of the season. What's more, the loss of Davis created an opportunity for Jeffrey Hammonds, who has hit 17 home runs.

In a perfect world, though, the Orioles would have both Davis and Hammonds. Davis is expected to complete his first phase of chemotherapy tomorrow. He'll then skip the treatment on Aug. 27 and Sept. 3 before beginning his next six-week phase on Sept. 10 -- smack in the middle of the pennant race.

"He said he's a little tired the day after, on Thursday," Gillick said. "But on Friday, he feels good. He hasn't had very much nausea at all. He's just a little bit tired."

Johnson said he has been advised by club physicians that Davis would be strong enough to contribute only as a reserve, and "anything more he gives us would be gravy." But, Johnson added, "I know Eric. Eventually when he comes back, he'll feel like he wants to play."

The Orioles need him.

Maybe even more than they know.

Playing the percentages

How Orioles hitters have fared against left-handed and right-handed pitchers (through last night's games):

............... vs. LHP ... H ..... AB

*Davis ........ .436

*Walton ....... .400

Berroa ........ .395 ...... 17 .... 43

Ledesma ....... .357 ...... 5 ..... 14

Surhoff ....... .297 ...... 35 .... 118

Ripken ........ .269 ...... 36 .... 134

Anderson ...... .266 ...... 41 .... 154

Hoiles ........ .262 ...... 17 .... 65

Hammonds ...... .255 ...... 27 .... 106

Webster ....... .242 ...... 16 .... 66

*Alomar ....... .234

Palmeiro ...... .218 ...... 38 .... 174

Reboulet ...... .207 ...... 17 .... 82

Tarasco ....... .190 ...... 4 ..... 21

Bordick ....... .168 ...... 19 .... 113

Baines ........ .000 ...... 0 ..... 7

Team .......... .256 ...... 335 ... 1308

............... vs. RHP ... H ..... AB

*Walton ....... .467

Ledesma ....... .400 ...... 6 ..... 15

*Alomar ....... .322

Anderson ...... .316 ...... 96 .... 304

Surhoff ....... .294 ...... 83 .... 282

Reboulet ...... .293 ...... 27 .... 92

Ripken ........ .291 ...... 100 ... 344

Webster ....... .283 ...... 36 .... 127

H ammonds ..... .283 ...... 63 .... 223

Palmeiro ...... .278 ...... 86 .... 309

Hoiles ........ .273 ...... 50 .... 183

Baines ........ .256 ...... 10 .... 39

Bordick ....... .256 ...... 71 .... 277

*Davis ........ .244

Tarasco ....... .227 ...... 29 .... 128

Berroa ........ .198 ...... 24 .... 121

Team .......... .278 ...... 800 ... 2878

* -- On disabled list

Pub Date: 8/20/97

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
27°