MINNEAPOLIS -- Opposing pitchers are tough enough. And then there are the fielders who discover springs in their legs or catch bullets in their teeth to stop his hardest-hit balls. Worst of all, Orioles center fielder Brady Anderson must rehabilitate his season from beneath the most oppressive numbers he has ever encountered.
Anderson finished last night's game against the Minnesota Twins batting .074, turf usually plumbed by National League pitchers and former Orioles catcher Tim Laker. It has taken 21 games, a strained right shoulder and 67 at-bats to dig the hole.
How long he'll need to recover is uncertain.
"You feel like you're making progress, but then you get nothing out of it," Anderson said.
With a clubhouse that includes future Hall of Famers Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken, hitting coach Rick Down and the ultimate professional hitter, Harold Baines, does Anderson turn in a particular direction for help?
"Everybody wants to give you advice. That's fine. But it comes down to you. You're totally alone in this situation. Totally," he said.
Anderson has endured injury-related benchings and being dropped to seventh in the lineup Monday night, a move he reacted to with no comment. He returned to the leadoff spot last night and went 1-for-5, failing to improve on a .221 on-base percentage.
Do you bang your head against a wall or laugh at the absurdity of it all? "I'd say it's somewhere in between," said Anderson.
Do you look up from the hole and wonder how many at-bats it will take to build a ladder? "You have to keep [at-bats] separate. Eventually something good will happen and you build on that," he said.
Anderson entered last night on an 0-for-25 slide that began before he went on the disabled list April 21. Since being activated May 8, he had gone 0-for-11, leaving him without a hit since April 15.
Facing Twins right-hander LaTroy Hawkins, Anderson punished a third-inning double off the right-field trash bag/fence for his first double of the season.
The hit gained meaning when he scored on shortstop Pat Meares' boot of Rafael Palmeiro's two-out grounder. A beginning.
Still at less than 100 percent, Anderson took extended early batting practice before the Orioles' first two games against Tampa Bay. Facing knuckleballer Dennis Springer, he drove two pitches to the warning track, but both were run down. Monday night against the Twins he drilled a fifth-inning line drive at first baseman Paul Molitor. It was caught as part of another 0-for-4 chapter.
Last year, Anderson suffered only one four-game stretch without a hit. He went hitless in his first four games this season and had gone without one for eight games until last night's double.
"Earlier in my career I was a streaky hitter. I'd have extended good periods and some that were bad," Anderson said. "But the last two years I had been more consistent. That's what makes this a little tougher to deal with."
Anderson, 34, appreciates the weight of numbers better than almost anybody. He scoffs at the impact of not even 70 at-bats when "I've got hundreds left."
Yet, he must produce a significant breakout to balance the worst slump of his 11-year major-league career. It is salvageable. If Anderson reaches 500 at-bats, he must hit .300 the rest of the way to find .270 for the season. Anderson is a career .261 hitter who batted .288 last season and .297 in 1996.
Insisting his condition is better than when he went on the DL, Anderson shies from injury talk. Getting well means something else.
Pub Date: 5/13/98